The Bush administration is failing to counter Islamist online propaganda that could propel militancy into the next generation, experts say.
From the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Islamists have built an expansive Internet library of sophisticated texts on the ideology that underpins violence against the West and other enemies, analysts and intelligence officials said.
“It’s a steady, stealthy indoctrination aimed at creating a whole new generation of jihadists. And scandalously, it is unopposed,” said Stephen Ulph, who studies the Islamist Web for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank.
E-books and online pamphlets, with titles such as “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad,” encourage the growth of home-grown militant cells across the world, including in such Western countries as Canada and Britain, the experts believe.
U.S. intelligence is reluctant to mount an effective counteroffensive by recruiting Islamic experts from overseas to rebut and even ridicule Islamist authors, according to experts and U.S. officials.
“Anything exposing the West as a supporter would destroy Islamic opposition to the jihadis,” one intelligence official on condition of anonymity. “We are completely out of luck with the Muslim world, across the board.”
Several agencies including the CIA, FBI and the office of U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte are part of a closely guarded effort to monitor the content of Islamist Web sites.
But the program is hampered by stringent security standards that make it hard for intelligence agencies to employ Islamist experts from the Arab world.
“Even if we think we understand elements of the religion, we certainly don’t understand elements of their cultural communications,” the intelligence official said.
POP JIHAD PROPAGANDA
Others warned that U.S. policy-makers could be making a fatal error by ignoring doctrinal online texts that lay bare the substance of a violent Islamist mind-set.
“In order to be able to fight something, you have first of all to understand what is going on. And I don’t think that at this stage they understand it well enough to fight it,” said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, which tracks and analyzes international terrorism.
In a presentation this week, Ulph said doctrinal material accounts for 60 percent of Islamist Web content and most texts are in Arabic. But many have begun to reappear in English and other European languages in an apparent appeal to Muslims living in the West.
One of the most popular is the 1,600-page treatise, “Call to Global Islamic Resistance,” a comprehensive guide to militant life by al Qaeda ideologue Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri, who was captured in Pakistan a year ago.
The Islamist Web became a center for al Qaeda operational planning, training and fund-raising after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Thousands of Islamist Web sites have since sprouted, many appealing to disenfranchised Muslim youth with so-called Pop Jihad propaganda that can include films of beheadings and spectacular attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
But Ulph and others, including former intelligence officials, say the future of Islamist militancy depends on the more sophisticated doctrinal material, capable of guiding the life of the committed militant from childhood to martyrdom.
“The focus has been on how these guys use the Internet for fund-raising and operations,” said Jarret Brachman of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. “Only recently have we realized there are strategic implications.”
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