The Digital War on Terror

Digital terrorism has spawned a brand new problem for the authorities, with jihadi and radical Islamist forums present all over the Internet today

The city of Palmyra was wrested back into the hands of the Syrian Army this Sunday, under the auspices of Russia which provided air support, after almost a year of Islamic State control. The destruction caused to the temple city also known as the ‘Venice of the Sands’ was plain for all to see. Despite the efforts of ISIS in attempting to destroy the ancient ruins of the city, archaeologists believe at least 80 percent of the protected sites still remain intact. While ISIS is seemingly losing ground in Syria and being bombed heavily in Iraq, their web of terror is flourishing in Europe and on the web, as we saw with the terror attacks in Belgium.

Terrogence is one the few companies in the world right now that is fighting ISIS on a digital battlefield. An Israeli firm, the company specialises in the assessment of terror threats derived from Internet sourced intelligence material, utilizing an array of expertise in the collection, translation and analysis of focused data. More importantly, they provide law enforcement agencies with in-depth information on the conversation, taking place on Jihadi forums and on radical Islamist social media portals.

In a recent Vice video, Shai Arbel the CEO of Terrogence describes what they do as ‘ Researching and collecting information from the Internet and then providing customers with intelligence about terrorist capabilities.’ They not only see what the terrorists are capable of doing, but go into their in-house lab and test the veracity of homemade bomb recipes that can be found on various jihadist forums online. The above clip shows how a Terrogence explosives expert goes on to ‘cook’ the recipe for TATP, the improvised explosive that was used in both the Paris and Belgium bombing attacks.

My brothers in the West Bank: Stab!

The volume and abundance of radical content available online is pretty astonishing to see. Israel itself, has felt the brunt of the rise and spread of Islamist radicalism through social media with a so-called ‘Third Intifada’ that began in October 2015, and has been simmering since. We saw Palestinian Terrorists call on their brothers to begin the uprising and go out and ‘Stab a Jew’. A video of an Imam was posted online, calling on his brothers in the west bank to ‘stab the myths away’. Even women were encouraged to jumped on the bandwagon, with a burkha clad woman launching herself at an Israeli security guard and a little girl probably in pre-school being indoctrinated in a positively surreal scene, claiming she wants to stab a jew, because they took her land.

This is Gaza! This is the place of trenches and guns! This is the West Bank! The place of Bombs and Daggers!

The spate of knifings of Israelis was carried out in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, leaving 28 Israelis and 189 Palestinians dead, 128 of whom Israel say were assailants. The term ‘Intifada’ dates back to 1987 when the First Palestinian Uprising took place against the Israeli Occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. More than 20 attacks by Palestinian assailants were conducted in February and March of 2016. The most recent attack was a stabbing in Jaffa, on a first year American MBA student. A video shows a hooded man running down the street with a knife in his hand, lunging at passengers in their cars.

How did the Israeli government respond to the Digital Intifada?

In a bid to deter the attackers and stem the wave of violence, Israel decided that all family homes of those they considered terrorists would be demolished. They believe it is a potent deterrent against terrorism, in significantly decreasing Palestinian terrorist attacks. Israel has come under widespread criticism for this approach. The international community and human rights organizations have condemned the policy, calling it collective punishment and even a war crime. The beleaguered residents of the West Bank can try and appeal to the Israeli army and ‘file an objection’ but it is almost always rejected. The family is then essentially in limbo, waiting for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to come knocking one day, and then blow their home to smithereens, right in front of their eyes.

Even the Israelis are condemning the demolitions. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli Human Rights Group, “There is undoubtedly a wave of demolitions and displacements that is severely threatening the ability of thousands of Palestinians to live in these areas,” said Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for B’Tselem.

“To demolish the homes of Palestinians who are protected under the Geneva Conventions and to build [Israeli] settlements is a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law,” she said. Last month, even the European Union hit out at Israeli authorities after a school funded by the French government was demolished by the Israeli government.

Are the social media platforms doing enough to curb terrorism?

Richard Lakin, a US-born teacher and peace activist living in Jerusalem was shot in the head and then stabbed multiple times on a public bus on October 13 2015. His son, Micah Avni filed a civil lawsuit against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg along with 20,000 other Israelis who are suing the social media platform, claiming that Facebook is not only facilitating radical Islamic Insurgency, but accelerating it thorough lack of policing. Micah wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled ‘ The Facebook Intifada’.

‘Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are the most powerful world leaders today, not Barack Obama or Benjamin Netanyahu’

Avni says the world leaders with the most influence in the Middle East today are not the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu or the Leader of the Free World Barack Obama. They are Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, who shape the social media platforms most of us use every day. He points out the brazen lack of policing after the killing of his father became a hit on Palestinian social media. A video re-enactment of the attack was posted online celebrating the gruesome incident and calling on more Palestinians to follow suit. He argues that the question of monitoring content online and incitement isn’t just a logistical or financial one anymore,but first and foremost a moral one.

The wave of terrorism we find ourselves in the middle of isn’t made up of underground terror cells and clandestine encryption devices anymore. It’s impressionable teenagers and young adults that have been incited by the hateful messages they see online, that implore them to take matters into their own hands. Things could not be easier for terror outfits that seek to cause panic and fear. All they have to do is post a couple of cool videos and photos with a gun or knife. The next thing you know, some easily influenced kid sees said post and decides to go out into the streets and shoot or stab someone.

It’s these kinds of attacks that are the most difficult to control for law enforcement agencies as the attackers aren’t suspects or terrorists, or on any no-fly zone or terror watch-list. They’re naive, impressionable adolescents that feel like they’re changing the world. The social media companies in the eye of the storm need to step up their monitoring efforts to prevent instances like this in the future. It’s time to wake up to your responsibilities, Messers Zuckerberg and Dorsey.