Terrorists may hate America but, a surprising number of them use American companies to host their websites. Hezbollah and the ISIS franchise Abu Sayaff are both considered terrorist organizations by the United States. Yet, these groups and others (or supporters pretending to be them) have been in some cases using American web-hosting servers for years.
Using the helpfully named internet search tool “Who.Is” websites connected to terrorist groups and their supporters can be traced back to their registrants. I have been able to uncover a shocking number of terrorist groups able to operate right in America’s cyber-backyard.
Over 400 websites are used to share ISIS propaganda or footage following terrorist attacks, many of which are official websites for terrorist-designated organizations.
Despite the several arrests and crackdowns made in previous years, terrorist organizations are continuing to use American web-hosting and domain services. The problem remains because domain and hosting providers keep allowing terrorists access to their services.
Why American companies accepting money from terrorist organizations in the form of payments for their services is a mystery. But, it’s no mystery which terrorist groups are benefiting from this oversight, error, or gross negligence.
The terrorist group Abu Sayaf, a terrorist group which operates in South East, was able to get a GoDaddy domain in Maryland, U.S., in 2000. True, the site was later revoked and true this was a full year before the 9/11 terrorist attack and long before the group pledge allegiance to Al Qaeda (and later Da’esh).
Alarming it was three years after both the United Kingdom and the United States had labeled the group a terrorist organization. They started out in the late 1980s largely focused on piracy but, the group remains active and was blamed for a deadly Church bombing last year in the Philippines which killed 18 people.
Another group which has been able to access U.S. cyberspace in recent years is Al-Qassam Brigades the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas organization. Their website www.alqassam.net has a US-based domain which was registered in 2017 through Name.com, which is based in Denver, Colorado, USA. The site displays images that glorify terrorists, child soldiers, suicide bombers, and a wide range of terrorist activities. The domain was last renewed in on the 30th of June 2019.
They are still being allowed to broadcast and share their propaganda, footage of terrorist missions, and receive anonymous Bitcoin donations from supporters of Hamas.
On the bottom left corner of the Al-Qassam Brigades website, Hamas instructs donors to contact a special email in order to receive instructions on sending donations to the terrorist group. This aims to make tracing these funds more difficult. This means that American websites are hosting information on how to circumnavigate U.S. laws.
Al-Qassam Brigades has been linked to numerous suicide bombings, armed attacks, and rocket fire used on civilians; and has been designated as a terrorist militia by Australia, Canada, UK, The E.U., and U.S.
The Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah uses a domain bought from eNom, Inc based in Washington, US. The site was registered in 1997 and has been allowed to continue using the domain since then www.moqawama.org. One of the hundreds of attacks that they are linked to is The Khobar Towers Bombing in 1996, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen.
The Dangers of These Websites
The above examples offer a glimpse into just some of these issues. The web domains for these and other websites continue to allow them to operate, and some of these sites share video footage of terrorist acts being performed or are used as platforms to convert and recruit susceptible people to their cause.
While these websites remain online, the struggle against extremism becomes harder. Many more followers will be recruited by the content of these websites and the way they glorify violence. Yet, there are no mass calls suggesting shutting down these websites would stop terrorism. However, it would play apart in reducing their power by making it harder to receive donations, and generally to get their message out to more significant numbers of people than they might otherwise reach.
A common theme in terrorism-related propaganda is the promotion of violence through online platforms. Today, terrorists would struggle to be relevant without access to the internet. Terrorist organizations utilize their online presence not only to increase their audience but also to distribute content to their following. The information they share is extremely dangerous.
Terrorists use of the internet is almost as long as the internet itself. In 1996, a handbook on poisons was published on the official Hamas website, detailing all the ingredients and the steps needed to make poisons, gases, and other dangerous substances, specifically for use in acts of terrorism.
Alongside their strategic propaganda campaigns, terrorist groups also use the internet for the promotion of extremist rhetoric, radicalization, planning, and encouragement of attacks against those they consider enemies, propagate a sense of fear in a particular community, recruit members (many of whom are minors) and solicit financial support; as well as incite acts of violence through online training videos.
Internet search engines have made it easier for potential terrorists to access terrorism-related material. Al-Qaida’s English online magazine, Inspire, is produced and circulated with the sole objective of radicalizing vulnerable Muslims. It provides tips and training methods for radicalized and extremist Muslims to undertake terrorist attacks in their own respective countries.
Another aim of the online magazine is to promote the teachings and statements of Osama Bin Laden and several other prominent Al-Qaida figures. In its first edition, Inspire featured an article titled “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom”; with instructions on making explosives and suggestions on locations to target government buildings and officials to maximize the killings.
While ISIS.com is down, many other sites, as demonstrated above, remain active and hosted by U.S. companies. These websites act as a threat to national security and the citizens of America. Terrorist organizations should be banned from accessing domain and hosting services in the first place.
What Should be Done?
Australia and New Zealand began to crack down on terrorist websites and social media accounts following the Christchurch massacre in March 2019, which was live- streamed on Facebook. Additionally, there are severe legal consequences for possessing online material such as Inspire Magazine in both Australia and the U.K. However, there seems to be no consequences in the USA for the possession and circulation of such terrorism-related material, as well as no laws preventing U.S. domain and hosting companies, which happen to be the most popular, from providing services to terrorist groups.
Authorities in the U.S. and other countries need to take the problem just as seriously. However, while the U.S. has attempted to crack down on terrorist organizations online far too many remain active.
Some long-standing websites have somehow slipped through the net. However, there is no denying that terrorists and their organizations have become masters of hiding their true identities online, which makes uncovering them, cutting off their funding and shutting them down more difficult. Witness the success of the twitter account “Shami Witness” which posed as a neutral source for on the ground news from the Syrian Civil War. Yet, it was in reality a front for an Indian man to promote Da’esh and other terrorist content.
Despite these difficulties, shutting down these sites is urgently needed. Terrorist groups rely on money from followers and online crime. Because of this, shutting off their access to online platforms could make it much harder for them to get the vast sums of money they need.