- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

Until late 2005, the Internet hacker who called himself “Irhabi 007” — “irhabi” is Arabic for “terrorist” — was a key enabler of Abu Musab Zarqawi’s Internet recruiting and propaganda efforts outside Iraq. He is now in custody in the United Kingdom. It turns out “Irhabi” is a 22-year-old West Londoner fluent in Arabic and English whose rather unremarkable combination of Islamist sympathies and technological aptitude ended up making him indispensable to the world’s most dangerous terror network.

The story of how and why he was apprehended, just now trickling out thanks to researchers at the Washington-based SITE Institute, suggests a mix of technological savvy and old-fashioned gumshoeing to fight the Internet jihad.

“Irhabi 007” made his mark in al Qaeda message forums helping insurgents and propagandists spread videos and multimedia, tighten Internet security and hack Web sites. It’s not yet clear to what extent he aided al Qaeda outside forums and Web sites. But his role as teacher and Web expert was extolled by his cohorts; he offered a “Seminar on Hacking Websites” and is said to have demonstrated it on sites run by the state of Arkansas and George Washington University. “You are one of the top people who care about serving your brothers,” one admirer wrote on a message forum. “Carry on serving jihad and its supporters.”

The intelligence community apparently knew about “Irhabi” long before he was apprehended and followed his work with interest. But for reasons not yet clear, Western governments did not stop him. Perhaps they failed to locate him; perhaps they preferred to keep him free as a means of tracking terrorists and communications networks.

The “Irhabi 007” connection unravelled in the last several months, when British authorities linked the cessation of the hacker’s activities — the summer of 2005 marked the end of his exploits, according to SITE — to the Oct. 21 arrest of 22-year-old Younis Tsouli of West London. Mr. Tsouli, arrested with three others under the Britain’s Terrorism Act, is charged with several acts of conspiracy and possession of terrorism-related wares.

It might turn out that Mr. Tsouli’s activities in support of al Qaeda in Iraq extended beyond his computer into London’s shadowy terrorist cells. But it might also turn out that this technologically capable young Islamist acted alone from an apartment in ways that greatly aided a deadly insurgency.

As frightening and unpredictable as the Internet jihad seems, in some respects it is fought on our own territory. Western nations are wealthier and more technologically advanced than al Qaeda; we possess the resources to regain the upper hand. With the proper means to trace the electronic fingerprints, plus the time-honored know-how to unravel the connections, the West can find the Internet jihadis and win this war.


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