This article examines the rise of the online Jihad and the importance of the internet in fostering support for terrorist organizations. The article discusses the online tactics used by Jihadist to attract and recruit other potential jihads as well as the methods taken by terrorist organizations to spread information and facilitate communication between interested sympathizers and terrorist groups. The article scrutinizes the various ways the internet is contributing to the increase in online Jihadist content as well as the increase for potential candidates. It also illustrates how internet advancements have lowered the cost of communication for terrorist organizations and enabled them to extend their reach and connect with audiences around the world.
Keywords: jihadization, jihads, terrorists
Terrorism is “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal” (Merriam Webster, 2015). Although objectives may vary, most Jihadists and other radical organizations carry out political and/or religious agendas against other nations in effort to gain power, money, freedom, or land. Turmoil in the middle east and other parts of the world have caused tragedies in the United States—the most prominent being the terrorist attacks on the World Trade center in New York on September 11, 2001. The most recent terrorist tragedies include the Boston Marathon in April of 2013 and the London/Paris attacks in November of 2015. A terrorist engages in acts of terror to impose religious or political ideologies on others.
Recent years have seen the rise of a different type of terrorism; especially cyberterrorism. Cyberterrorism—the use of computers to launch attacks on targets—is different from the cyber jihad which is occurs when a terrorist organization presents “less threatening” information on the internet (McNeal, 2008). Studies have found that consistent exposure to these types of sites with radical content is sufficient enough to “catalyze terrorist action” (Picart, 2015, p. 360). As individuals come into contact with the content they are more likely to be affected by it and ultimately end up engaging in it or accepting the ideologies.
According to Jihad Cool/Jihad Chic": The Roles of the Internet and Imagined Relations in the Self-Radicalization, “the internet is dramatically altering the structure and overall threat of Islamic terrorism,” (Tucker, 2010). There has been an increase in the use of the internet to garner support for terrorist activities. Terrorists groups are able to fundraise, attract and recruit potential jihadists, spread propaganda and information regarding the group, and set up operation centers all through the internet (McNeal, 2008). The rise of online Jihadization is contributing to the rapid growth of those who support their efforts. The term “Jihadization” refers to “self-radicalized terrorist” that believe it is their duty to contribute to the online jihad and who also identify themselves as “holy warriors” or “Mujahedeen” (Picart, 2015, p. 360). Online (or cyber) jihad is primarily used to support activities that directly involve war efforts (McNeal, 2008).
Researchers refer to the internet which is used by terrorists to facilitate communication with members, spread ideologies, fundraise and recruit potential jihadists as the “Dark Web” (Chen, Chung, Qin, Reid, Sagemen, & Weimann, 2008, p. 1347). Prominent terrorist leader Bin Laden stated that the media Jihad is, “as important as battle field and in the case most common and powerful medium for the terrorists media jihad is the internet” (McNeal, 2008, p. 794). It is apparent that terrorist organizations rely heavily on the internet to carry out their radical agendas.
The Jihad Uses the Internet to Recruit and Communicate
The internet is an excellent channel to communicate with potential recruits and supporters of terrorism. According to Cyber Embargo: Counting the Internet Jihad, “Technology has made instantaneous recruitment simple,” (McNeal, 2008, p. 794). What makes the internet such a powerful tool is that individuals can easily access information at any location—at home or in public. As a result of this ease of accessibility since the rise of the internet’s popularity, terrorists groups have seen the number of recruits drastically increase exponentially (McNeal, 2008). Before the internet allowed easy accessibility and instant connection, jihadists were limited in communicating with one another and garnering support for their cause; most organizations relied on telephones, radios, and other forms of electronics to connect (McNeal, 2008). The internet has virtually eliminated this hassle. Now, the internet has eliminated technological and geographical constraints and allows terrorist organizations to unite and work with individuals around the globe to achieve their initiatives (McNeal, 2008).
Instant communication is crucial to support the jihadist agenda. Access to websites and chat rooms exposes supporters and interested “sympathizers” to terrorist organizations and recruiters and connects them with one another (McNeal, 2008). These chat rooms are able to attract potential recruits by encouraging extreme solutions that appear simplistic in nature and are abstract (Chen, et al., 2008). Those interested in jihadist groups are able to contact the group through the contact information that is often listed on the organization’s website, and terrorists are able to recruit members through this method after contact is established 7(McNeal, 2008).
Advancements in technology also means more advanced means of communication for jihads; and ultimately, lower costs. For example, due to the advancements of online videos and digital imaging, terrorists are able to broadcast messages to larger audiences and interested viewers (McNeal, 2008). Jihads can reach mass audiences without the high costs that were associated with doing so in recent years. Also, as bandwidth costs decrease so does the costs of streaming video allowing an even further reach for terrorist organizations (McNeal, 2008). Accompanied with the decreased cost of video streaming use, jihadists can also customize language settings and view settings on a website to match the language and culture of their intended audience; thus eliminating the possibilities of discrepancies and miscommunications as a result of linguistic and cultural barriers (McNeal, 2008).
The Jihad Uses the Internet to Attract and Inspire Recruits
The internet is the number one resource to target, attract, radicalize and retain recruits. Terrorists groups are able to keep costs low by using the internet, as it an inexpensive recruiting tool that enables terrorists to gain support from people around the world (McNeal, 2008). Terrorist groups can post a variety of content online for users to access. Studies have found that terrorist groups target young individuals by incorporating colorful and flashy content, which is designed to appeal to, “a computer savvy, media-saturated, video game-addicted generation” (McNeal, 2008, p. 795). Because adolescents are more easily persuaded, terrorist groups target these people in hopes of gaining their support and loyalty. Also, adolescence is a transformation period in many young adults’ lives and when they are heavily influenced. Jihadists attempt to build a community that fosters a sense of belonging and commonality for young adults; this appeals to lonely individuals who are often isolated from others or have difficult forming and maintaining connections (Chen, et al., 2008).
In these virtual communities jihadist are able to pass on their ideologies (one of their main goals) and reach supporters at every corner of the world (McNeal, 2008). Jihadist incorporate the use of social media to create a “loose community of radical mentors and likeminded extremist, who provide resources, support, and communication, thus furthering the individual’s conversion to radicalization, and strengthening imagines ties to this loose, virtual community (Picart, 2015). The internet (specifically online chat rooms and websites) can be a breeding grounds for potential jihadist recruits when used effectively by terrorist organizations. Terrorists can use websites to post training material and video demonstrations online for interested recruits (McNeal, 2008). The internet accomplishes all of this is done while protecting identities of Jihadist and maintaining their anonymity (Chen, et al., 2008).
The Jihad Uses The Internet for Fundraising and Money Laundering
The internet has also provided an excellent way for jihadist to fundraise and money launder. The internet is used to raise money to support the terrorist groups’ murderous activities (McNeal, 2008). Studies found that in 2006, there were terrorist organization websites that were present on the internet due to the support and contributions by several American companies (McNeal, 2008). Terrorist groups also create websites and impersonate charities in order to garner support and money from contributors (McNeal, 2008). These website allow the groups to fundraise for their cause (McNeal, 2008). Jihadists are able to track the emails of individuals that contribute money to local charities and solicit donations by acting as a charity as well. As a result, those that contribute to charities often unknowingly donate money to terrorist organizations under the impression that their money is going towards a good cause (McNeal, 2008). Jihadists often rely on these donations that “charities and non-governmental organizations” contribute which enable the terrorist groups to do online business (McNeal, 2008).
The internet provides a forum that allows easy, cheap access to potential jihadist recruits and those interested in terrorist organizations. Through online websites, terrorists are able to attract and retain candidates, fundraise and money launder, and target audiences to communicate radical information to. This new form of terrorism is gaining momentum and is a threat to nations around the globe as the internet allows unlimited access to every part of the world. Individuals must educate themselves to refrain from accidentally donating to terrorist organizations and engaging in jihadist content.
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