ACTIVIST TARGETS JIHAD'S WEB SITE - CHICAGO COMPANY IS TERROR GROUP'S INTERNET SOURCE
By Todd Lighty and Stephen Franklin, Tribune staff reporters.
Chicago Tribune,1/5/2003 - A southern Illinois Internet activist has launched a campaign to shut down the self-declared official Web site for Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian terrorist group. His battle has not been with some Middle Eastern Internet provider, but with a Chicago-based company, Hostway Corp., one of the nation's major Web site providers.
Noting the U.S. State Department's classification of Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization, Andrew Weisburd, part of a group that seeks out terrorist Web sites, recently called for state and federal officials as well as Hostway to shut down the site. And Weisburd may have to take his fight to New Jersey, where his group says the Web site may be moving. Hostway officials confirmed that the Islamic Jihad home page is among the more than 100,000 Web sites on their servers. But, they added, they were unaware of the site's apparent link to the terrorist group until receiving complaints several months ago.
Since then, however, they have not taken any action against the Web site. "Our policy is not to allow any terror sites," said company spokesman John Lee. "Once we find out that they are terrorists or anti-U.S. or hurt people, we use our best judgment to shut the site down."
But in the case of the Islamic Jihad site, qudsway.com, Lee said law
enforcement officials have not contacted his company about the site. He added that his firm does not have anyone who can translate the Arabic side of the site, which is the most vitriolic, spelling out Islamic Jihad's hard-line beliefs!!!
"The site is not illegal in any way [nor does it condone] illegal activity," said FBI spokesman Frank Bochte in Chicago. "We cannot be the Orwellian thought police. If it is mere words and nothing beyond that, there's nothing we can do."
Internet as an integral tool
How Islamic Jihad selected Chicago-based Hostway Corp. for its Internet needs is a mystery, but terrorism experts say radical Islamic groups, including Al Qaeda, increasingly have turned to cyberspace to craft their militant messages. In a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League called "Jihad Online," the group said the Internet is a "tool tailor-made" for Islamic extremists to plan attacks, raise money and spread propaganda.
Rita Katz, who uncovered the Islamic Jihad Web site several months ago, said the Internet provides another example of how technologically sophisticated terrorists have become to communicate with sympathizers around the globe. Hamas and many other terrorist groups have Web sites based in the U.S., because U.S. computer servers are technologically superior, said Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a counterterrorism organization in Washington, D.C. Likewise, they accept credit cards and Web site costs are cheap, about $10 to $20 a month, she said.
The Islamic Jihad Web site has two faces, one in English and one in Arabic. The English site is far smaller and makes no mention of Islamic Jihad's latest bloody exploits. But the Arabic site reproduces posters that praise martyrs, or shahids, who died while conducting attacks on Israelis. It lists the names of about 60
martyrs since the early 1990s who have died for the Islamic Jihad and provides their histories.
It talks about the "Zionist" rope over American leaders and lists 45 Jews in top positions of U.S. government. A photo gallery features the burning of the American flag, and one section is called "Know Your Enemy." Islamic Jihad's official symbol--a map of Palestine in red to represent the group's quest to destroy Israel--is featured prominently on the site. Based in Damascus, Syria, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is one of nearly three dozen foreign groups the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist organization.
Web sites rooted out
The group is the latest target of Internet Haganah, which, according to Weisburd, has helped shut down 65 terrorism-related Web sites in the U.S. and overseas by contacting government officials and firms like Hostway. One pro-Al Qaeda Web site that was recently shut down amid pressure from his group had a guide on how to kidnap Americans, Weisburd said. Internet Haganah, formed after the U.S. terrorism attacks in 2001, tracks about 50 terrorism-related Web sites, he said.
In its latest tracking, Internet Haganah said the Islamic Jihad appears to be moving its site from Chicago to New Jersey and adopting a new domain name. Internet Haganah's members are U.S. and Israeli counter-terrorism and Internet experts, Weisburd said. Their Web site is haganah.org.il. Haganah in Hebrew means defense.
Weisburd's goal in tracking such Web sites, said the 38-year-old Internet expert, is to make people aware that the Internet has become a place where people "can get each other fired up to go out and kill."