February 15, 2010

Online Jihadis Really Are Connected to al Qaeda

Yeah, I'm pretty much just ripping stories off Jawa related stories from Hot Air today. This is good, though. You'll notice that the source of the story is the al Faloja forum. Somehow they knew that an al Qaeda courier had been arrested in transit from Pakistan to Yemen.

Since the forum post turns out to be true, one must wonder out loud whether the naysayers who claim that the online jihad forums are no big deal, nothing to worry about, First Amendment! etc, etc, .... might not wish to rethink their untenable position?

While it is true that the relationship between forum users and al Qaeda is usually indirect (with al Qaeda reinforcing beliefs and inspiring some to action), sometimes the relationship is quite direct -- some members of these forums are also members of al Qaeda, other violent Islamist groups, or part of homegrown terror cells.


There has been no public announcement of the arrest. But in a possible indication of the operative's importance, just a few days later, two postings on a jihadi web forum suggested that Al Qaeda leaders were worried and wanted their "commanders" to take immediate precautions.

The postings stated that the "captured brother" -- identified as a "field commander" named Abdullah Saleh al-Eidan who went by the name of "Barud"- - was "on his way back from Afghanistan" and had been turned over to Saudi authorities.

Even more noteworthy, the postings -written by a fellow Al Qaeda "brother" - reported that Al Eidan had with him 300 "important phone numbers" as well as pictures, names and documents from Afghanistan.

"The brother requested that this information reach the commanders in Yemen and Afghanistan as soon as possible," read one of the postings, which appeared on a web forum known as Fallujah Islamic Forum. "He also asked.the commanders to change their places of residence and mobile phone numbers as soon as possible."

Notice the other interesting thing here: al Qaeda central is sending a message through the forum to field commanders. Hey, change your phone numbers, move, you've been compromised!

Strategic question: In light of this, are the forums better left open where we can monitor them and gain crucial intelligence? Or, is asymmetrical warfare different enough from conventional warfare that closing the forums creates even greater advantages? Such as forcing al Qaeda to use couriers rather than email.

I think of all the intel we gathered in WWII through monitoring German and Japanese communications traffic. Invaluable intelligence. But the command structure of al Qaeda is such that communications between central and field are much less important. So, while there is value in monitoring communications might there not be more value in simply denying them the tools they need to effectively communicate and coordinate?

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 11:40 AM | Comments |