There is evidence that Jihadist websites have only climbed in popularity over 2005. Numbers of registered members on sites increased, as did traffic to the sites (Terror Web Watch). Efforts could be discerned over the past year to make the materials posted to monitored sites more detailed and diverse. Jihadist videos appeared that were more sophisticated and detailed than most that appeared in years prior. Activity on known sites that posted terrorists’ training materials and technical instructions for the execution of attacks was observed to increase over 2005. With resilience, this web presence bucked attempts by some to dismantle it or banish it from the Internet. New sites came up to replace sites that had been taken down; archival material was preserved and reposted. These trends can be expected to continue into 2006, and this disturbing Internet presence will likely continue to exhibit resiliency in the face of attempts to sabotage it.
There are a couple of potential developments that will be important to monitor over 2006. First, the potential is being exhibited for a more interactive relationship between terrorist groups and their worldwide constituency of supporters, with a more robust give-and-take between them taking place over Internet forums. 2006 may be the year when terrorist groups start leveraging websites to determine what kinds of attacks and targets would please their constituency most, thus help in recruiting. When members of Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi?s network attacked hotels in Amman, Jordan , there were some murmurs of disapproval on the websites on which the network typically circulates its materials and whose members typically praise him unquestioningly. Zarqawi subsequently issued an explanation and justification for the attacks, as well as declared that they had not intended to attack an Arab wedding taking place in the Radisson (Terror Web Watch). Similarly, such websites seemed to be used in 2005 to relay messages from groups or individuals to terrorist organizations and will probably continue to be used in this way in 2006. Examples include an interview conducted on a website by an al-Qaeda field commander in which the questions were solicited from the membership of Islamist websites (Terror Web Watch) and letters directed at Iraqi insurgent groups allegedly from other terrorist entities (Terror Web Watch).
The most disturbing potentiality that may come to fruition in 2006 is the use of Arabic language bomb making instructions and instructional videos posted on these websites by an untrained group that forms spontaneously, rather than one that is recruited and trained by an established terrorist organization. It will, therefore, continue to be important to determine what kinds of ideas for attacks such entrepreneurial terrorist cells could have obtained from these sites.
In 2006, these websites will probably grow to become the primary point of interaction for terrorist groups and the far flung community of radical followers whose support they court. Monitoring these sites will continue to provide important open source information that will need to be carefully analyzed within the context of which it appears. Challenges with dealing with this material will persist, however. Determining authenticity of Internet statements by terrorist groups will continue to be a problem for both intelligence collectors and the membership of such websites, and terrorist groups may come up with more formalized mechanisms to signal authenticity. The posting of threats that turn out to be empty or go unexecuted could bring fatigue among supporters who want to see promises of violence followed up on and lead to a boy-who-cried-wolf complacency among western observers of these sites. From another angle, however, 2006 could be the year that some of these threats are actualized, and these communities in cyberspace prove to have real, malignant consequences in the real world.
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