The Internet as a battleground used by the terrorist organizations

1. Hezbollah and Hamas are prominent examples of Islamic terrorist organizations which learned to exploit the communications revolution of the last decade. They make extensive use of the media, especially television and the Internet , in the battle for hearts and minds, waged parallel to the fighting on the ground. They use the media to disseminate their ideology and political propaganda, generate public interest in their activities and attempt to win sympathy and support.

2. For Hezbollah, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations, the computer keyboard is a weapon no less important than their assault rifles, rockets or side charges. Beyond the battle for hearts and minds, the Internet has a variety of other uses :

A. Maintaining operational links between the organizations’ headquarters, and the operational networks and target audiences , which are often widely separated by geography (for example, the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, headed by Khaled Mashaal, and the organization’s networks in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip). Websites and surfer forums provide convenient platforms for transmitting operative instructions to individuals or to an entire audience (for example, posting bulletins calling for action, such as appearance at a demonstration.) 1 In addition, the Internet is also used to collect intelligence regarding terrorist attack targets. 2

B. Acquiring operational knowhow . Terrorist operatives use the Internet’s technical sites which contain information about topics such as making explosives and constructing rockets. That is particularly important for the Palestinian terrorist organizations, which do not have standard advanced weapons such as those possessed by Hezbollah.

C. Collecting donations . In recent years there has been an increase in the amount of funds collected through the Internet for Islamic "charitable societies.” The Islamic terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas, use their vast networks of "charitable societies” to fund its civilian wing, although a portion of the money also leaks into funding terrorist activities.

3. The importance of marketing Islamic terrorist organization ideology and disseminating its propaganda through satellite TV and the Internet grew after the events of September 11, 2001. On the other hand, in recent years the United States , and to a lesser degree other countries, have hampered the various terrorist organizations’ use of the media. A prominent example is the restrictions the United States , France and other European countries placed on the satellite broadcasts of Al-Manar TV, the Hezbollah channel.

4. By using the Internet, Hezbollah and Hamas, like Al-Qaeda and the global jihad organizations, can evade with relative ease the difficulties placed in their paths by various governments , including the United States administration, by claiming privileges of freedom of speech (guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution) and by exploiting the generally accepted principle that the Internet should not be subject to censorship. That allows it to be the main conduit for the almost completely unhampered dissemination of radical Islamic ideology, the encouragement of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombing attacks, the destruction of Israel and extreme anti-Semitic propaganda.

5. Hezbollah, Hamas and the radical Islamic terrorist organizations avail themselves of the Internet to support their terrorist activities and disseminate their ideology, and use Western Internet hosts to do so. At the same time, they refute and deny the basic Western principles which are also disseminated by the Internet, such as democracy, freedom of speech, the equality of women, etc. Thus it is no wonder that in the Gaza Strip, Internet cafes are a primary target for fundamentalist Islamic elements.

6. The objective of this study is to examine how Hezbollah and Hamas use the Internet to wage their battle for hearts and minds and how they exploit the services of Western companies. At the end of the study ideas and suggestions are presented for combating the terrorist organizations in the Internet arena, especially Hezbollah and Hamas. The study is divided into three parts:

A. Part 1 : How Hezbollah exploits the Internet in its battle for hearts and minds.

B. Part 2 : How Hamas exploits the Internet in its battle for hearts and minds.

C. Part 3 : Ideas and suggestions for combating the terrorist organizations on the Internet (specifically Hezbollah and Hamas).

Part 1 

How Hezbollah exploits the Internet in its battle for hearts and minds 

I. Hezbollah’s Internet network

1. Hezbollah has made extensive use of the Internet since the end of the 1990s. After the second Lebanon war (July-August 2006), during which many of the organization’s sites folded, Hezbollah upgraded its Internet network to a great extent . It upgraded some of its sites technologically and updated them more frequently than before the war, and also added new sites.

2. Today its Internet network has between 15 and 20 sites , some of which sometimes disappear and reappear. The general characteristics of the network are as follows:

A. The sites present a unified propaganda theme determined by the organization’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, based on a comprehensive Iranian strategic program in line with the regime’s radical Islamic ideology .

B. The sites’ target audiences are varied and include the Lebanese (who are given top priority), the Arab-Muslim world (second in importance) and the West and Israel (given third priority).

C. The sites appear in five languages: Arabic (most important), English (second in importance) and French , Farsi and Hebrew (third in importance). 3

D. The sites are interactive : At the sites for Radio Nur and Radio Wa’ad ("The Promise”) surfers can use the Internet to listen to programs broadcast by Radio Nur, Hezbollah’s radio station . Its Al-Manar TV broadcasts can also be viewed at both the Al-Manar TV Website and the Anbaa Website. That allows Hezbollah to circumvent the restrictions placed on Al-Manar TV’s broadcasts by the United States and several European countries.

3. The most prominent themes found on the Hezbollah Websites are the following : 4

A. Hezbollah is "the shield of Lebanon :” Hezbollah nurtures its image as a strong, legitimate Lebanese organization with advanced operational capabilities, which defends Lebanese against "Israeli aggression.”

B. Hezbollah won the second Lebanon war . After the war Hezbollah worked hard to foster the myth of its "divine victory.” The findings of the Winograd Committee 5 were used to spread and inculcate the myth.

C. Fostering the personality cults of Hassan Nasrallah and the Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei , the Iranian source of religious authority.

D. Terrorism , justified by the ideologies of jihad , shahadah (death as a martyr for the sake of Allah and muqawamah ("active resistance,” i.e., terrorism and violence), is a legitimate course of action .

E . Virulent incitement against Israel , the Zionist movement, the Jewish people, the United States and the West . In addition to anti-Semitism there are calls for the destruction of Israel .

II. By whom I s Hezbollah’s Internet network supported? 6

4. Hezbollah’s Internet capabilities clearly surpass those of an ordinary terrorist organization in both scope and quality , and are another expression of the support Iran gives the organization. Iranian aid includes the massive funding necessary to operate the organization’s many Websites and preserve their high technical quality and frequent updating.

5. Technical support and assistance are provided by Internet service providers based in the United States (nine companies), Canada (two companies) and Syria (three companies). The support and assistance are, in part, as follows (as of July 2007): 7

A. During the eight months since our last examination (December 2006) there has been a trend to return to companies in the United States and Canada . The current examination has shown that most of Hezbollah’s Websites, like those of the global jihad and radical Islam , are supported by Western hosts and ISPs, particularly those in the United States . 8

B. Four new leading sites in various languages are supported by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment , and two by an Iranian company . In our assessment, that has been done to ensure the continuous operation of important sites and make them impervious to external pressure .

C. The blog sites in Spanish in South America which identify with Hezbollah and preach violence and hatred are assisted by large American companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft; one of them is assisted by an Argentinean company.

D. Some of the sites are supported by more than one ISP. That is apparently done to make it easier to find a substitute for a site should it crash.

III. The distribution of Hezbollah Websites according to content

6. Hezbollah’s Websites can be classified into seven main groups according to content:

A. Group 1 : Main news sites.

B. Group 2 : Communications sites.

C. Group 3 : Local south Lebanon town and village sites.

D. Group 4 : Social institution sites.

E. Group 5 : The site dedicated to Samir Kuntar, the symbol of Hezbollah’s campaign to release prisoners in Israeli jails.

F. Group 6 : Forum sites affiliated and identified with Hezbollah.

G. Group 7 : Spanish-language sites and blogs in South America identified with Hezbollah.

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