How The Use of Information & Communications Technology (ICT) by Terrorist Has Changed Over Last 20 Years

 On the 21st July 1969, those of us who had television sets would marvel at the images that were being relayed from the Moon’s surface in the Sea of Tranquility, by the Eagle landing craft and the Apollo 11 orbiter. Then came those famous words by Astronaut Neil Armstrong: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed (BBC News Retrieved 1 November 007).”

As Armstrong open the hatch and appeared from within the lunar landing module the masses around the world continued to watch Armstrong climb down the landing craft ladder and finally step onto the surface of the moon; relaying those famous words by Armstrong: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind (BBC News Retrieved 1 November 007).”

 Yes, those remarkable images were wonderful and amazing, but equally as amazing was the telephone call that former President Nixon made from the White House to the astronauts at the time of their lunar surface landing (BBC News Retrieved 1 November 007), and the technology that brought them all to the conclusion of this historic event.

 Technology which included some of the world’s most sophisticated computers that had been born and conceived by the United States Advanced Research Projects Agency, (ARPA), in 1958. Now better known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

(DARPA), which had originally been setup in order to lead the technology race with the former Soviet Union to conquer mans first ventures into space and the cold war arms race (Retrieved: November 1, 2007, DARPA).

 This extraordinary venture would ultimately lead the world into the phenomenon known as today’s World Wide Web and the Internet. The Internet and the World Wide Web better known as WWW are not one and the same as commonly thought. The Internet is a collection of interconnected chain of computer networks that are linked by copper fiber-optic cables and now more commonly by wireless connections and satellite. On the other hand the Web is a collection of documents and so on which is linked by what is commonly known as hyperlinks and URLs.

 WWW is a resource that is available or associated with the Internet; other resources include e-mail, and file sharing amongst others. The Internet technology has certainly revolutionized the way we as individuals and collectively as a community do things. From the way we shop (EBAY) to the way we travel (online airline bookings) and do our daily banking. Just about every aspect of our lives is affiliated either directly or indirectly by computers.

We now commonly communicate daily by email, undertake schooling programs by Internet; seek a new recipe to cook a nice meal for our guest dinner, and much, more.

The www world Internet stats estimate that more than 1.2 billion people or 18.9% of the world’s population is using the Internet on a regular basis since September 2007 (Retrieved 1 November 2007, Which represents a massive 244.7% growth since 2000 (Retrieved 1 November 2007, Not surprising we learn that terrorist have also homed in on this fantastic innovative technology.

Weimann (2004) stipulates that the modern Internet was commonly opened up to commercial users in the late 1980s. Individual groups with different political objectives became more commonly found to utilize the internet as a self serving propaganda machine (Weimann, 2004). The internet revolutionized the way terrorist groups did their business.

It provided them with easy access; limited, to no regulated censorship by government bodies; a global audience; anonymity; the ability to provide miss information; access to develop tri media and multimedia environments with the ability to provide a combination of text, graphics, audio, and video messages for their target markets (Weimann, 2004); and furthermore the ability to circumvent traditional mass media outlets who at times would be none responsive in delivering the full extended version of the terrorist over-all propaganda. Which as Meyer (1991) states;

“…grants authority to its makers. In the first place, simply by demonstrating its ability to disseminate information that the government has banned, a guerrilla group proves that it is a viable force. Second, once a group has the people’s ears and eyes it can manipulate their minds, causing them to act as they might not otherwise; or if it does not work as effectively as this, its message at least command the attention of those who read, hear, or see them. In words and pictures, those whose plans are hidden from public view can portray themselves any way they please. Furthermore, if appearing to play a particular role can win support, propaganda will help these guerrillas to become in fact the powerful forces that they claim to be (Meyer, 1991; p.2)”.

The internet now allows the means for terrorist groups to deliver their version of their messages, their propaganda, when and where they want, and more importantly with all the content they want to include in any message. This was a tool and privilege that was not available to the terrorist in the 1970’s or 1980’s. For example the Olympic Games terrorist attack in Munich was instigated by the PLO and the BSO in effort to ascertain mass global media exposure and publicity for their cause (Hoffman, 2006, p.67).

 Therefore the terrorist had to rely on how the mass media perceived them or more importantly how the mass media chain wanted to perceive them to the public at large. As Rivers, suggested in his book ‘The Mass Media (1964, p.77), in most cases the media are able to set the agenda which is focused on capturing the attention of the public. They and they alone decide what will be discussed, or acted upon, simply by deciding what headlines to highlight and what to ignore. Each individual has his or her own opinion on political and or social values and it is those opinions that are from time to time reflected in the direction the news flows (Rivers, 1964, p.77). When the internet finally arrived this became no longer an issue. Freedom to dictate the content of their message was now only governed by the parameters of their own conscience.

 A good example of the effects terrorist have by using the internet as a propaganda tool can be drawn from events in 2004 when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, now deceased released an online internet audio which in his own terminology depicted him and his political cause (Conway, Date unknown; p.25). In his audio al-Zarqawi provided details of attacks he had previously been responsible for (Conway, Date unknown; p.25). His effort brought minimum exposure to his cause. However when al-Zarqawi maximized the usage of the internet by releasing a video of him beheading a US hostage online he ascertain immediate international media exposure (Conway, Date unknown; p.25). His objective by this sadistic act was to seek the attention to his cause a scheme that had imperial affect and thus subsequently prompted

the US military to bomb Najaf in which 100 people where killed (Conway, Date unknown; p.25). The murderous stunt simultaneously made al Zaraqwi a hero to other jihads terrorist around the world (Conway, Date unknown; p.25).

Prior to internet terrorist groups would rely on public libraries or converse with people in the know about certain subjects that they sought information about, such as for example planning an attack, or sourcing funds for an attack. Methods used were routinely slow and restricted to geographical locations they where presently in.

When it came to fundraising the scope of their audience was always limited by the exposure they were able to secure from publicity events construe by them to further their cause. Planning attacks were always limited to the communication systems of the day or individuals direct interactions with each other. Most of what was done could not be done with speed or anonymity. The threat of attracting adverse media attention was always a concern, even though bad publicity was always deemed still to be considered good publicity. However any adverse media coverage would always have the public audience drift away from their desired image.

When the computer and the internet became available terrorist groups were suddenly in the know. Through keyword-driven Internet research using search engines, like Yahoo and Google, terrorist ascertained global instant access to a vast and diverse amount of online information.

The internet now made it easier for individual synthesizers not directly associated to any one organization to provide ideas, exchange information. In turn the internet also simultaneously provided terrorist with a much larger audience to their cause.

From those extended audiences terrorist groups could now frequent private chat room on the net and scout for new recruits. Benjamin and Simon (2005, p.78) revealed in their book ‘The Next Attack’ how a terrorist using a jihadist forum on the net had posted notices in which he sought individuals who had expertise in chemistry, physics, electronics, mathematics, and computer programming. It was further revealed in an online www.newsbusters article written by Noel Sheppard, that terrorist had adapted to recruiting candidates from online services such as YOUTUBE and MYSPACE (www.nesbusters, 2006). Sheppard also alleged in his article that the terrorist internet chatters had actually gone as far as trained new recruits using such media sites as TOUTUBE and MYSPACE (www.nesbusters, 2006).

The new phenomenon of web logs and blogs would allow terrorist organization to acquire quickly more volumes of information from one site to another, or equally update websites form any location in the world. No longer was there a reliance on any other

source then their own to fulfill their propaganda objectives. The computer and the internet became just as an equally important fighting tool for the terrorist as the AK-47, or conductive explosives.

Suddenly with the computer and the internet the terrorist no longer needed to frequent city internet café’s. The new technology now allowed them to broadcast messages to terrorist cells, exchange information, and design and plan attacks using multi media software from remote location using lap tops and a dial in access to an internet provider.

In addition terrorist now have the ability to relay their messages and desired images to the media. In August 2005, Steve Coll and Susan Glasser wrote an article in the Washington Post in which they described bin Laden’s biographer Hamid Mir observing how al Qaeda members were seen carrying laptop computers along with their Kalashnikov rifles in the mountains near Jalalabad (Coll & Glasser, 2005). Amazingly, assume ably, in an act of patriotism Mir witnessed on the laptop screen, photographs of the 9/11 terrorist cell leader Mohamed Atta. Clearly the photograph was being used to inspire and propaganda.

Coll and Glasser (2005) accredited al Qaeda as the first terrorist group “to migrate from physical space to cyberspace (Coll & Glasser, 2005)”.

 With technology changing and advancing rapidly on a day to day basis it will only be a matter of time before computers will be replaced with mobile phones which have the capability to receive and send information over the internet such as the Nokia E-611 which not only has the ability to send emails and surf the internet, but also has the ability to store vast encrypted amounts of information, and the ability to either down load stored or ascertained internet data to a laptop or directly print any documents.

The internet brought the ability for terrorist to advertise their point of view to a global audience, rather then the limitation of a localized news paper story, or a regional TV news broadcast. For example the Tamil Tiger operate a website called ( On their web site they provide a detailed history of their struggle for their home land. Information covers their version of events since 1948.

In addition there is a section that is dedicated to state terrorism. In this section the Tamil Tigers provide their account of events in regards to what they call state terrorism actions performed by the Sri Lankan Government. also has a dedicated section titled ‘weaponry’ which outlines their specific military capabilities; this section is also supported with photographs. Other leads and links on their web site include a section on Audio and Video which describes how the LTTE operates websites, a radio station, and a satellite broadcasting channel.

The section also provides details on the LTTE’s magazine publishing ability and the releases of various DVDs and videos. Other sections on the site include a detailed photo gallery, a section on books about Tamil Tigers and a link to affiliate militant groups (retrieved, www.

A brief examination of the Tamil Tigers website provides a detailed and comprehensive understanding how the introduction of new technology, particularly internet related technology has brought about changes on how terrorist groups can now advertise their objectives, or self market their struggle.

With the birth of the internet terrorist groups who launched their websites also discovered a secondary effect. They discovered how they could lucratively tap into a global marketing system for paraphernalia associated to their cause.

The internet has also made it easier for terrorist groups to streamline pre-recorded messages to the mass media that now commonly provide Internet ‘feeds’.

Conway (Date unknown; p.25) provided a comprehensive, although not complete list of terrorist groups who due to the internet and the presence of their websites have become more transnational in character;

 “From the Middle East, Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), the Lebanese Hezbollah (Party of God), the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah Tanzim, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Kahane Lives movement, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI—Mujahedin-e Khalq), the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Turkish-based Popular Democratic Liberation Front Party (DHKP/C) and Great East Islamic Raiders Front (IBDA-C).

From Europe, the Basque ETA movement, Armata Corsa (the Corsican Army), and the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

From Latin America, Peru’s Tupak-Amaru (MRTA) and Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN-Colombia), and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC).

From Asia, al Qaeda, the Japanese Supreme Truth (Aum Shinrikyo), Ansar al Islam (Supporters of Islam) in Iraq, the Japanese Red Army (JRA), Hizb-ul Mujehideen in Kashmir, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Islamic

Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines, the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the rebel movement in Chechnya (Conway, Date unknown; p.25).”

 Hence without the internet the majority of these groups on Conway’s list would have remained relatively unknown to the world at large. The internet has provided these groups and groups like them to portray and market themselves more definitely in accordance to their own objectives.

 The internet is also being used to launch psychological warfare, by terrorist group. This is commonly done by the providing media feeds with miss information, or on the other hand factual information that goes towards providing a disturbing psychological profile about the group to their intended enemy audience. This example can be concluded by al-Zaraqwi’s events previously noted above in which al-Zaraqwi beheaded a person (Conway, Date unknown; p.25).

 In conclusion, Weimann (2006) summed up terrorism and the internet by quoting the CLC Media Policy Program’s opinion on the subject, which reads;

“Perhaps one of the most promising features of the internet is that it gives voices to many who have been unable to buy or generate media attention. Minor parties are using the internet to spread their message and recruit members. Interest groups are likewise drumming up support on the Net. Moreover, the low cost of the internet means that poorly financed challengers can compete at some level with incumbents. For some, the Internet may be their only chance to address a large audience….In addition to providing information, the Internet can facilitate communications that might not otherwise be possible.

Ubiquitous chat rooms provide users with a chance to exchange ideas with one another….Websites also act as de facto grassroots organizers; many candidates use their sites to recruit volunteers for their campaigns. Finally, because many sites permit users to e-mail candidates directly, there is a type of interaction that is not possible through more traditional campaign communications (In: Weimann, 2006; p.23; Readings; 186)”.

 This essay has demonstrated how the internet and modern technology has aided and revolutionized the way terrorist now do their thing. Modern technology now has given terrorist the tools in which they clearly can ascertain an advantage for their cause and

struggle, which encompasses their need for communications, networking, planning, fundraising, recruiting, advertising and propagandizing. Twenty years ago, handling such things would have been much more complex, time consuming, and costly. The internet has changed all that and more.

Top of Page



BBC News. On this Day. 21st July. 1969: Man Takes First Step on the Moon. Retrieved: 1 November 2007.

Benjamin, D; & Simon, S. (2005). The Next Attack. The Globalization of Jihad. Hodder and Stoughton. Great Britain, E-Operations p.78. In: Readings GPM418 No: 2, (2007).

O’Brien, N. (Comp.) Charles Sturt University. Bathurst, p.159.

Coll, S & Glasser, S.B. (7 August 2005). Terrorist Turn to the Web as Base of Operations. Washington Post. Retrieved: 2 November 2007.

Conway, M. (Retrieved: 2nd November 2007). Terrorism and Internet governance: core issues.

Defense Advanced research Projects Agency. Retrieved: 1st November 2007.


Hoffman, B. (2006) Inside Terrorism. Revised and Expanded Edition. Columbia Press. New York, p. 67.


Internet Usage Statistics. The Internet Big Picture. Retrieved 1st November 2007:


Meyer, C. (1991). Underground Voices: Insurgent Propaganda in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Peru. Santa Monica California, USA: RAND, N-3299-USDP; p.2. In:

Hoffman, B. (2006). The Use of the Internet by Islamic Extremists. Before the Permanent select Committee on Intelligence United States House of Representaives. RAND. In:

Readings GPM418 No: 2, (2007). O’Brien, N. (Comp.) Charles Sturt University. Bathurst, p.218.

Rivers, W.L. (1964). The Mass Media. (2nd Edition). Harper & Row. New York. (p.77).


Sheppard, N. (22nd November, 2006). Terrorist Use Youtube and Myspace to train and recruit. Retrieved: 3rd November 2007.


Weimann, G. (March 2004). How Modern Terrorism uses the internet. United States Institute of Peace. Special Report No. 116. Retrieved 2nd November 2007:


Weimann, G. (2006).Terror on the Internet. The New Arena. The New Challenges. United States Institute of Peace, Washington. Chapter 1, ‘New Terrorism, New Media, p. 23. In: Readings GPM418 No: 2, (2007). O’Brien, N. (Comp.) Charles Sturt University. Bathurst, p. 186.

Top of Page

Author: Christian PW Faust

Founder and CEO of Faust Legal Support Services and A graduate of Criminology, Terrorism, Safety & Security, Certificate III Investigations, Certificate in Due Diligence, Holder of Master CAPI License. Also a Member of Associate International Academy for Investigative Psychology. American, European, Australian & New Zealand Societies of Criminology and San Andres Volunteer Fire Brigade, Manila, Philippines. And a Special Consultant for Legal & Political Affairs - Manila City Council.