The Blogosphere for Killers
Tech-savvy terrorists use the Web for propaganda and incitement.

Thursday, July 12, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Living as we do now afloat the incoming and outgoing tides of media, perhaps the aborted London and Glasgow car bombings of a fortnight ago are worth another thought before these attempted mass murders drift away on the sea of bad memories. What about those doctors? The apparent complicity of U.K.-resident Muslim physicians in the attempted murder of innocent British civilians had many in the West asking why. The short answer is that these trained M.D.s somehow convinced themselves that these British people didn't deserve to live--that it would be morally good to kill them. That's insane. Why would they think that?

The best answer I have seen in a long time is found in a new study of Islamic media propaganda by a research team from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and Ideas" by Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo (with Radio Free Iraq correspondents, two of whom were abducted and murdered this year) is an astounding compilation of the high-tech methods being used by the insurgency in Iraq to propagate the ideology of the Islamic jihadist movement. This is the blogosphere for killers.

There is no more unchallenged verity in our times than that the World Wide Web, the Internet, is a boon to mankind. But as with nuclear or biological warfare, the Web is a dual-use technology. Technically adept Muslims, using out-of-the-box PC software and hardware, are outputting an electronic torrent of slick Web sites, discussion forums, videos, e-magazines and long-form movies, all with one purpose--to incite Muslims to join the jihad against the enemies of Islam in Baghdad, London, Glasgow or New York. Forget those Iraqi attack videos on YouTube; this is a sophisticated, globally distributed propaganda operation.

As always with the Web, anything done in the analog past--the propaganda of World War II or the Cold War--can be ramped up exponentially by Islamic jihadists on the Internet. In March, at least 11 self-identified insurgency groups posted 966 "statements" on the Web about battles and engagements, looking much like those put out by the U.S. Army. Their casualty claims often have no basis in reality, but that's not the point. The point is to convince credulous minds in their world that they are a potent, thriving force.

Example: Over March 26-27 this year, a Baghdad suicide bomber killed two people, a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi policeman, and a bombing killed four U.S. soldiers in Diyala. Press releases, or "statements," about events were sent over the Web by Al-Fajr Media Center, the Just Vengeance Brigades, the Mujahidin Army and Ansar al-Sunnah. The Al-Fajr Media Center's March 27 statement claimed that "our brother . . . detonated the car . . . killing more than 11 soldiers of the idolatrous Guard."

The language is invariably religious. There's no effort here to appeal to nationalistic sentiment; thus, for a global audience, the Islamic argument becomes wholly religious. Those produced for Islamic State of Iraq/Al-Qaeda (primarily by the Al-Furqan Institute for Media Production) refer to "martyrdom-seeking operations."

Many of the sites offer graphically attractive texts explaining "Who We Are" or "Our Creed." The texts can be shared on the Internet via free upload and download services such as or, using Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat. There are downloadable, full-color e-magazines with opinion pieces and jihadist articles ("The Courage of a Boy"). The Mujahidin Shura Council regularly produces elaborately formatted, full-color "biographies of martyrs."

According to the RFE study's authors, the utility of the written word is well understood by the jihadists: "The written word everywhere remains the preferred medium of record and authority. . . . Texts are also the traditional medium of ideological discourse." Nearly all this material, incidentally is "branded" with the group's unique logo floating in the corner of the screen.

They often embed audio clips from jihadist leadership in the texts. Audio polemics and hate speech are commonplace across the Islamic Web. Or they'll include links to attack videos, as noted in the "Top 20" graphic nearby. "Top 20's" seven-minute compilation of 20 attacks on U.S. forces comes with a rousing jihadist song, "Arise from Slumber." Its final lyric: "We have returned with the machine gun and now we are leaders."

A 28-minute film by Ansar al-Sunnah, "Just Vengeance," records the kidnapping, interrogation and execution of Shiite policemen. Another video of a suicide bomber's truck exploding reveals the centrality of distributable media: It was filmed from three different camera angles. Jihadist video comes in several file sizes: high resolution (up to 500 megabytes), medium (8 megabytes) or in highly compressed files for downloading to mobile phones, popular in PC-deficient Iraq. They enable free uploads of the videos via Windows Media Player, RealPlayer and DivX.

The reach of insurgent and jihadist propaganda increases exponentially when it is picked up by Arab TV--Al-Jazeera, of course, or the Al-Rafidayn satellite channel in Cairo or even the Iraqi Al-Zawra, which claims to be operating from a satellite truck in Iraq.

In an interview this week, RFE's Mr. Kimmage said they have presented the media study to both the House and Senate intelligence committees and to government national security agencies. Reactions range from "wow" to "we already know all that." In any event, what would they do? This is propaganda on an unprecedented scale.

If you are a young Muslim male, even a doctor, with a PC in Egypt, the Gulf states, Somalia, Morocco or Glasgow, as always with the Web you are marinating your mind in its content, and the content here is homicide on a mass scale. The answer--technical or political--is not obvious to me. But the one unacceptable answer is doing nothing.