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Global Jihad, One Hit at a Time

If the automated counting program is accurate, one of the main Internet sites for the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade has registered more than 2 million hits. Sixty-two thousand people have visited a site of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These are just two of the thousands of Internet sites dedicated to spreading jihadist sentiment.

The rhetoric on these sites is extreme, but most troubling are graphic videos that exhort believers to take action and manuals that teach them how.

These manuals and clips are “everywhere on the Internet,” explains Rita Katz, who runs the SITE Institute, a Web site that helps sniff out such sites.

She has found online video lectures that explain how to construct a suicide vest and devise an inexpensive chemical weapon. Some manuals detail how to behead an enemy according to Islamic principles. At the ASIS Global Terrorism Workshop, Katz showed excerpts of a manual on bioweapons that specifies particle sizes and where in the respiratory tract particles should ideally lodge.

Katz isn’t the only one monitoring global jihadists online. Similar monitoring sites, but with different fields of focus, are run by Strategic Arabic Translations and the Jamestown Foundation, among others.

Is it worth it for a security department to monitor these sites or subscribe to a monitoring service? And if so, what should companies do with this data?

“I don’t think there’s that much a company can do” with this information, says Dennis Pluchinsky, a former threat analyst for the State Department, now in the private sector. Companies might monitor Web sites to look for a change in the tone of rhetoric, the mention of a specific company or region, or the appearance of some other useful bit of information, he says. But the sheer number of sites—which turn over constantly—and the low likelihood of a company finding information specific to it make monitoring a low priority.

On the other hand, says Pluchinsky, “These groups don’t telegraph their attacks. If they’re going to tip off a new line of direction, it will be on a Web site in a thread, forum, or document.” So it may be advisable for some authority to periodically check what is being said. A company that tracks the use of its name on the Internet might also look for terrorist messages.