Jihad like lightning

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The song has that lilting quality of a trance common to Middle Eastern music, punctuated with the strident repetition of Allahu Akbar — God is great — which dominates the song’s refrain as well as the background shouts of men detonating explosives beneath American vehicles.

This is Ansar al-Sunnah’s “Top Twenty” contest for the best improvised-explosive device attacks in Iraq. According to the insurgent group’s video, entries are judged on picture quality, accuracy of the detonation and the “explosives’ competence.” The top prize went to the Jazeera Division’s obliteration of a Humvee in a supply convoy. The Ramadi contingent came in a close second with its destruction of an up-armored Humvee on patrol. At the end of the video, the Jazeera insurgents are congratulated for their victory and all divisions are invited to contribute submissions for the next competition.

Ansar al-Sunnah is one of the many insurgent groups operating on the Web, spreading their message of jihad through blogs, video and Web communiques. The anonymity and scope of the Internet allows them to work from anywhere in the world and hide their tracks through a labyrinth of different Web hosts, domain registrars and false names. The whole enterprise is often financed with stolen credit-card numbers.

One jihadist media outlet, the World News Network (WNN), had its Web site at www.w-n-n.com until two weeks ago. It’s an al Qaeda news service which posts, among other things, press releases from the “Ministry of Information, Islamic State of Iraq” — the name al Qaeda gives to the fledgling caliphate it’s trying to create in Anbar Province. The domain name is registered with Langenbach Computer Services of Dusseldorf, Germany, but the owner used a false address for the transaction, one that belongs to Verio Inc., a Colorado-based Web hosting company. According to Verio spokesman Bill Thomas, the company has no affiliation whatsoever with WNN or the registrant.

The site was actually hosted by Site Genie LLC of Rochester, Minnesota. After viewing WNN’s content, Scott Litke, Site Genie’s CEO, instructed the owner of the server to shut it down. “We’re a shared hosting service, meaning we sell space to other hosting companies, so chances are they don’t even know what’s being held on their own servers,” Mr. Litke explained, “but I don’t want this on my network.” WNN’s site lists numerous reports of al Qaeda operations throughout Iraq and boasts of killing U.S. troops, referred to as “Crusader soldiers” in Diyala Province and elsewhere. It also contains video of these operations, including the execution of fourteen members of the Iraqi Army and Police forces, all of whom were shot in the back of the head after the passing of an al Qaeda deadline for the release of prisoners being held in a government jail. Another video shows an IED detonation beneath a Stryker armored vehicle, which it claims killed eleven “Crusaders,” which is denied by the U.S. Army.

Accuracy is not a priority for the site, however, and its content is replete with errors, including a July 10 posting that claims al Qaeda operatives damaged a “G130” aircraft (presumably referring to a C-130 cargo plane).

Another report takes credit for the July 2 downing of two “Kaiwa” (Kiowa) helicopters south of Baghdad, when in fact only one was lost. Nonetheless, like all propaganda, WNN’s goal isn’t to inform but to energize and motivate potential jihadists to join the fight, including those in the West.

To this end, the Web site posts English-language press releases. Among them is one praising the June 25 suicide bombing at the Mansour Hotel in Baghdad, which killed thirteen people and targeted America’s Sunni allies in the Anbar Salvation Council. The communique also threatened “Allah’s enemies” with more of the same: “[W]e will never trust you, the enmity and aversion are between us and you until you believe in Allah and nothing will quench our rancor except cutting your heads, your bloodshed and giving our blood in the sake of Allah.” These sites are a chilling mixture of slick technology and brutal imagery.

In one video, with the cameras rolling, a red circle is superimposed over the spot where an IED is just about to detonate under an approaching Iraqi Army convoy. A massive explosion blows off the back of a Humvee and arrows appear on the screen to identify blackened corpses tumbling out of the vehicle.

The production companies creating this media rarely if ever have brick-and-mortar operations. They distribute their video through shared file systems, so a clip can be uploaded to any Web site from any Internet cafe using any anonymous e-mail account. WNN uses dozens of links to various shared video Web sites (similar to YouTube), and although some are deactivated when their content is discovered, enough stay active to reach anyone who wants to watch them.

The day after Mr. Litke shut them down, WNN was back on the Web, operating from a new domain name (www.w-n-n.net) and a new server in Malaysia. The contact information, however, still listed the same false address and phone number in Colorado. According to Mr. Litke, the quick recovery time probably means al Qaeda maintains multiple sites simultaneously. “I bet they have mirror sites and simply need to change the DNS [Domain Name System],” he explained. “Technology is great but in some ways it is simply sad how it can be used.”

Nate Braden is a writer in Denver who previously embedded with Army and Marine Corps advisers in Iraq.

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