How do terrorist organizations use the internet?
The internet is an increasingly useful tool for terrorists, whose online activities include information-sharing, propaganda, and possibly, cyberterrorism. Over the last ten years, the number of terrorist sites has jumped from less than 100 to as many as 4,000. "This has particularly taken off since the war in Iraq, as many of the insurgency groups there have many sites and message boards to help their network", says SITE Institute, a Washington DCbased terrorist-tracking group. "The greatest advantage [of the internet] is stealth", says John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. "[Terrorists] swim in an ocean of bits and bytes". But the same anonymity that draws terrorists into the cyber world may also enable law-enforcement officials to spy on them undetected.
Today, terrorists give orders, plan attacks, and even send funds via online message boards and chat rooms. Terrorist sites also serve as virtual training grounds, offering tutorials on making bombs, firing surface-to-air-missiles, shooting at U.S. soldiers, and sneaking into Iraq from abroad. The internet also provides a venue for terrorists to disseminate their message, experts say. Terrorist sites broadcast propaganda videos designed to boost morale, raise funds, or recruit new members.
There is some debate within the counterterrorism community about how to combat terrorist sites. Some experts say monitoring websites can provide valuable information about terrorist activities. "You can see who's posting what and who's paying for it", one expert says. (...) Other experts advocate a more aggressive approach; they say shutting down websites, even temporarily, can disrupt a terrorist group's activities.
The United States have tried to prosecute webmasters who run terrorist websites in the West, but has run into opposition from free speech advocates. "Sites that tell the terrorist side of the story go right up to the brink of civil liberties", Arquilla says.
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