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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Cyber jihad: A war waged from apartments and bedrooms

Cyber jihad: A war waged from apartments and bedrooms

September 19, 2008

The web war waged from a bedroom
By Steve Swann
BBC News

Police and intelligence agencies across the world believe that the case of Younes Tsouli - who was jailed in London last year for inciting terror over the internet - offers dramatic evidence of how extremists are using the web to radicalise young Muslims.

Undated police picture of Younis Tsouli Younis Tsouli described himself online as Terrorist 007
Cyber jihadist
From his bedroom in Shepherd's Bush in West London, Tsouli, who called himself "Terrorist 007," was linked to alleged terror groups in Bosnia, Scandinavia, Canada and the United States.

He also had links to a number of Britons who have been jailed recently for terror offences.

When he was arrested by police in 2005, they had no idea that he had become one of the most notorious cyber-jihadists in the world.

Tsouli had been talent-spotted by al-Qaeda in Iraq, whose leaders needed someone to distribute footage of suicide bombings and beheadings.

"007 came at this with a Western perspective," says international terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann. "He had a flair for marketing and he had the technical knowledge and skills to be able to place this stuff in areas on the net where it wouldn't get easily erased."

Suicide bombers

Tsouli set up websites to publish jihadi literature and offer practical advice on the making and using of explosives. He advised would-be suicide bombers who wanted information about how to get into Iraq. His computer hard drive provided a litany of hateful web chat with extremists from dozens of countries.

Tsouli's bedroom in West London Tsouli became a notorious cyber-jihadist from his bedroom in London
More worrying still were Tsouli's links to groups alleged to be planning terrorist attacks. He was in contact with men living in Scandinavia who claimed to represent al-Qaeda in Northern Europe.

In autumn 2005, they travelled to the Bosnian capital Sarajevo to carry out suicide attacks on Western military targets. Police disrupted the plot and when they analysed the mobile phone records of the ringleader, they found the last number dialled was to a number registered to an address in West London.

This was Younes Tsouli's flat. When British anti-terrorism police officers arrested Tsouli and searched his laptop they found an evidence-trail spanning the globe.

It led to arrests in North America. Seventeen Muslims in Toronto were accused of planning a bombing campaign. Some are alleged to have used password-protected web forums run by Tsouli and his co-conspirators.

International links

The FBI also arrested two American Muslims who, it is alleged, met members of the Toronto group to discuss hitting targets in the US. The two men then travelled to Washington DC, where they shot footage of the World Bank and the Capitol building. They e-mailed this to Tsouli. Police say it was reconnaissance of targets for attack.

At-Tibyan webpage The Tsouli cell ran the At-Tibyan website

Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, uses the Tsouli case as an example of how counter-terrorism policing has to adapt to new realities: "We are seeking terrorist leaders in foreign bases, lone actors in suburban basements, and also small but sophisticated groups who want to carry out terrorist attacks. The threat exists not only in the mountains of Pakistan, but also in the shadows of the internet."

Since Tsouli was convicted, it has emerged that he also had links to British Muslims who have recently been found guilty of terrorism offences. The common link is the website At-Tibyan, which the Tsouli cell ran.

Yassin Nassari was a regular user of the site. He was convicted of storing instructions on how to make rocket launchers. From his home in Scotland, Mohammed Siddique published extremist websites. He, too, is now in prison. As are a group of students from Bradford University who used the internet to develop plans to travel overseas for terror training.



Aabid Khan and his global jihad

Aabid Khan's diary entries Khan recorded his plotting in a diary

Aabid Khan's conviction marks the latest chapter in a series of raids and arrests across three continents. Four trials have already led to convictions in three countries - and the investigations continue.

Armed police closed in on an apartment on a rutted road in a village on the edge of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

As they burst in, they subdued a group of men they had been observing. One of the group had an armed "suicide belt" of explosives.

These arrests in March 2005 were a major breakthrough in an investigation that would reveal how international jihadists were operating through the internet - from North America and Europe through to South Asia.

The searches in Bosnia uncovered a so-called "martyrdom" video explaining in English how the men were fighting on behalf of oppressed Muslims around the world.

Materials included the mobile phone belonging to the ringleader, who had travelled from Scandinavia hoping to carry out attacks on Nato targets.

A suicide bomb device on a jihadist video The men shared material on suicide bomb-making
But just as importantly, detectives established the phone had been in contact with a number registered to an address in the UK.

When officers from the Metropolitan Police kicked in the door of a modest flat in west London, they had no idea they were about to arrest one of the then most significant figures among a growing network of cyber-terrorists.

The occupant was a young Moroccan, Younes Tsouli, who had used the internet to build links to al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq and a wider network around the world.

Robert Mueller, the Director of the FBI has described Tsouli as an example of how "the web is terrorism's new frontier, offering both persuasive information, but also practical instruction".

Tsouli's encrypted hard drive was a treasure trove of evidence which led detectives to other suspected extremists across the world.

These men had been using password-protected internet forums to exchange views on jihad - but they did not realise they had also left themselves exposed to infiltration by intelligence officers.

Activities observed

Within a couple of months of Tsouli's arrest, West Yorkshire Police officers began observing the activities of Bradford man Aabid Khan. He had worked on one of Tsouli's key websites, At Tibyan.

How Khan is linked to other terror cases around the world
Enlarge Image

Meanwhile, in North America, police and spies began watching another group they linked to this online network. Like Tsouli and Khan, many of them were very young.

The targets they are alleged to have discussed attacking - the global positioning system and the Canadian Parliament - often seemed fanciful.

Khan allegedly talked online to some of them about setting up a mini-Sharia state in a remote part of Scotland.

Nevertheless, his naivety was combined with a deadly seriousness and burgeoning connections to militant groups in Asia.

Global arrests

Gradually, once evidence had been gathered of various alleged plots, the authorities moved to arrest those they had placed under surveillance.

Undated police picture of Younis Tsouli Younis Tsouli described himself online as Terrorist 007 Cyber jihadist
The web war waged from the bedroom
Two men from the United States were among those picked up in March and April 2006.

They are alleged to have emailed Tsouli and Khan reconnaissance footage they filmed of targets in Washington DC. Khan is then believed to have met one of the men in Pakistan to arrange terrorism training.

Scottish police arrested a student, Mohammed Atif Siddique, as he was about to board a flight to Pakistan to join up with Khan. Analysis of internet chat between him and Khan suggested the latter was grooming and radicalising the former.

Then in June 2006 Toronto witnessed the dramatic arrests of 17 men. The group had been infiltrated by two police informants and was accused of planning attacks on Canadian targets. The alleged leader was a friend of Aabid Khan's. The men deny terrorism charges in an ongoing case.

Days later Khan flew back to Britain from Pakistan. Despite knowing about the arrests in Toronto, he entered the country with a mass of incriminating material.

Officers from West Yorkshire Police had been tipped off by the security service that Khan was coming into the country.

When they searched his luggage they were astonished to find evidence that dramatically illustrated his involvement in Islamist extremism and his dedication to the cause of the global jihad.

As he was cautioned, he asked officers: "Will my Dad get to know?"

When detectives said they needed to swab his hands as he was suspected of handling explosives, he started to shake violently.

"I've been handling fireworks in Pakistan," he said. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7549447.stm

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