CARBONDALE, ILL. — The grainy Internet movie file flashes a title: “Al Qaeda Movement in the Land of the Two Rivers. An Operation Against the British Troops Near Baghdad.”?
The streaming online video clip shows a car as it motors slowly up a single-lane road, away from the cameraman who shakily zooms in as it gathers speed toward a British checkpoint. A caption appears, reading “Here goes the brave lion to tear up his prey and to win paradise.” The cameraman is speaking in Arabic, his voice rising with “God is Great, God is Great”? as the car at center screen arrives at the British checkpoint and a soldier standing in the road.
Suddenly, a massive fireball of orange and black lashes upward and outward, instantly slaughtering him and wounding two other British soldiers of the Black Watch Regiment, along with the suicide bomber, according to later press reports. The Jihadists responsible are then filmed at the scene kicking a dismembered arm left behind by a recovery tank squad.
This is a movie clip put up just last week by notorious terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization within a few days of the actual Nov. 7 attack.
Sometime over the weekend, as CBS-11 aired promotions for this story, it disappeared with others of its ilk on an Internet server owned by an up-and-coming Dallas web site hosting company called The Planet. In downtown Dallas ((www.theplanet.com). Glorifying the slaughter of American soldiers and their allies in Iraq. Helping to enhance the global street credentials of Zarqawi among any like-minded person with access to a computer.
Aaron Weisburd, a self-appointed cyber warrior who since 2002 has run a crusade called Internet Haganah (www.Internet-Haganah.us) to shut down these so-called “e-jihadists,”? is the one who tracked the movies to Dallas. And in recent weeks, Weisburd has discovered that Zarqawi’s home movies on The Planet servers have plenty of other bad company in Big D.
The Planet’s Dallas servers have in recent months hosted web sites run by Islamic extremist organizations the U.S. government has long since banned as Designated Terrorist Organizations – three different Palestinian Islamic Jihad promotional sites and Hamas’ monthly news magazine. Two Hamas websites and two Al Quaeda websites remain on The Planet’s servers, according to Internet Haganah.
For the past two and a half years, Weisburd and his Internet Haganah (www.haganah.us) volunteer translators and analysts across the globe have been using a tracking program he devised to expose the presence of extremist outlawed Jihadists and hound them off the Web by asking the server companies to drop their business.
A former computer programmer, Weisburd started chasing after e-jihadists on a lark and soon realized that literally thousands of extremist Islamic web sites were out there in cyberspace, beckoning to millions of Muslims around the world to join their bloody causes.
“Every moment that these sites are up they encourage jihadists to commit acts of terrorism,”? Weisburd told CBS-11 News in his first interview with an American media organization. “They provide instructions to people in how to do things like build bombs. They build identity and a sense of community. They incite violence. They encourage people to go out and kill people.
“I’m of the opinion that one ought not to just sit there and tolerate terrorists advertising their organization,”? he said. “They’re not just some other organization. They’re not a humanitarian organization. They’re not a corporation. They’re terrorists. They’re in the business of killing people. They shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy that kind of legitimacy.”?
From his home office in the southern Illinois college town of Carbondale, Weisburd has found sites in Dallas literally singing the praises of suicide bombing, sporting photo memorials of martyrs and promoting their bloody, violent causes. Working internationally, he claims his efforts have knocked down more than 550 extremist web sites.
Sometimes, he said, service provider companies resist but most do not want to be associated with terrorists.
“My guess is that in the grand scheme of things one bad customer isn’t worth nearly as much as all the good customers you want to keep who don’t want to be associated with this stuff either,”? Weisburd said. “I mean, do you really want to be known as associated with terrorists?”?
Most of the time, the giant service providers do not know what kinds of web sites they are hosting until someone complains. Such companies typically sell wholesalers their web space and those wholesalers in turn contract much of the business with the public, with just about anyone who offers a name and a credit card.
Under federal law, it is illegal for any American company to knowingly do business with a designated terrorist organization without reporting it, although federal prosecutions are considered difficult to bring to fruition across multiple international jurisdictions. Federal prosecutions also are difficult because straw purchasers several steps removed from a terrorist group who might secretly buy the web sites can be difficult to directly link to terrorist organizations. The First Amendment otherwise protects even most hate speech from prosecution, limiting what the government can do but certainly not what civilians like Weisburd can do.
Which is to track down the e-jihadists wherever they may turn up, report their new presence and have them thrown off the Web until they pop up again somewhere else. Weisburd said his computer programs constantly prowl the World Wide Web for more than 200 web sites in his growing database, keeping them ever on the run.
Weisburd and the estimated 30,000 Internet Haganah followers who see his regular reports on the whereabouts of Islamic extremist websites said he couldn’t yet claim credit for shaming the five web sites he knows of off the Dallas servers. In September, three Palestinian Islamic Jihad web sites he had shut down in Switzerland showed up on The Planet’s servers in Dallas.
Weisburd said he reported their resurfacing to his Internet Haganah readers and moved on to other business. The three websites have since disappeared but Weisburd isn’t sure of what happened.
The Planet executives declined requests for on-camera interviews but said in telephone conversations that the company simply does not have the ability to police for Islamic extremist material among the 1.5 million web sites and 20,000 customers. The web sites appear to violate content that is banned by The Planet’s own acceptable use policy.
More than a week after CBS-11 informed Chief Operating Officer Lance Crosby of a Hamas magazine web site, www.fm-m.com that were operating off of his servers, it remained online. Hamas, which was designated a terrorist organization in 1995, has taken credit for years of suicide bombings that have claimed the lives of hundreds of Israeli civilians and at least ten Americans. An email request for interviews at the website went unanswered last week.
But former federal prosecutor Matt Yarbrough, now a private attorney specializing in cyber law, said server companies like The Planet can easily and cheaply patrol their servers.
“There would have to be a social sort of outcry or decision here on the part of the service provider to want to do this, but it is technically possible,”? Yarbrough said. “All they would have to do is basically run a string search across its own server farm to look at the content of each one of these web sites, whether it’s a key word, or terrorism, or bomb, or Holy Jihad.”?
Yarbrough said service providers who choose not to police for extremist Islamic material risks civil liability should anyone ever be injured or killed as a result of Internet encouragement.
“Victims of terrorist attacks are not going to be suing terrorists; they’re going to be suing deep pockets right here in the United States that played some role, even if it’s very tenuous to what happened in the act of terrorism,”? Yarbrough said.
Mark Briskman, head of the Dallas area chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said his organization was “saddened to know that a company in Dallas is hosting hate materials and hope they take actions against any sites that violate their rules.”
“This is not an issue of freedom of speech,” Briskman said. “Rather, a company can choose with whom they wish to do business and hold the right to terminate that business relationship. “
Meanwhile, macabre new video clips continued showing up on The Planet servers last week, posted there by Zarqawi’s organization, Weisburd said. They included a video clip entitled “Smoke “˜em Out”? showing American soldiers putting out fires from a car bomb attack somewhere in Iraq.
The video then shows footage of a dead U.S. soldier, accompanied by the caption “The picture of a U.S. soldier who was killed in the explosion.”? A smiling Iraqi man is shown proudly holding a torn American combat boot.
Weisburd said he discovered the video clips on the Dallas server while patrolling a highly restricted Al Qaeda discussion forum where Zarqawi’s personal spokesman often posts messages about the group’s latest terror attacks. After the suicide bombing that killed the British soldier, Weisburd said, the terrorist spokesman posted a message in the forum claiming credit and promising to post proof soon.
The next day, Zarqawi’s spokesman announced the proof and provided a link to the video of the exploding car bomb, on The Planet.com.
Asked how he would like The Plant to respond, Weisburd said, “I would hope that they would contact their customer whose site is being used to host that film and that their customer would respond by suspending that account.
“The Planet is not profiting from this hardly at all. Being a step or two removed from the paying customer, there’s really very little interest for them,”? he said. “But they have a lot to lose in terms of simply business reputation. “
As in any war, even in cyberspace, those who shoot are liable to be shot at.
And figuratively, Weisburd, who is Jewish, has taken plenty of shots from the e-Jihadists who have come to hate him and the trouble he causes.
“Web sites are central to their identity. It’s a window on their soul,”? Weisburd explained. “They associate with these sites in a very personal way. And so, when you cause one of these sites to be shut down you cause them personal pain. They’ll find their sites down and go to my site and find out it was me.”?
Haganah is a hebrew word meaning “defense” and became potent when it was chosen as the name of Jewish defense militias that fended off relentless Arab attacks on settlements before Israel’s 1948 establishment. The Haganah was precurser to today’s Israeli Defense Force.
Internet Haganah’s persistence has drawn repeated counterattacks from Islamist website forums and chat rooms. Posters urge Muslim hackers to attack Weisburd, and they have succeeded on a number of occasions of shutting him down, albeit temporarily.
“They just generally call me “˜That Jew,’ Al Yahood,”? he said. “In Arabic, calling somebody a Jew is as bad as it gets.”?
Physical threats of violence are not uncommon, either. Most recently, Weisburd received a letter from someone in Cherry Hill, N.J. threatening that they would cut his head off if he did not stop the cyber warfare.
But Weisburd, who keeps loaded firearms at hand at all times, says he is ready for them and will keep the pressure on.
“I’m in-your-face,”? he said. “It’s important to confront them as it would be any thug. The way you deal with people like them is you stand up and fight them. You don’t run away and hide.
“You don’t let them control the battlefield, and you don’t let them take advantage of your own networks in order to destroy your own society.”?
For more information about what you can do about Internet terrorism, contact www.Internet-Haganah.us.