Al-Qaeda flourishing on internet, intelligence officials warn
Radical groups such as al-Qaeda have developed a strong command of the internet, using it for everything from fundraising to recruiting, according to the head of Canada's security service.
Jim Judd, who was appointed director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in November, says Osama bin Laden's network has compensated for the loss of its training camps in Afghanistan by using the internet to run lucrative credit-card fraud schemes, publish training manuals and recruit new fighters.
"Followers are recruited around the world, including in our own country," Judd told a Senate committee reviewing Canada's Anti-terrorism Act.
He said CSIS keeps tabs on more than 100 people it suspects have links to terrorist groups. Increasingly, the names on the watch list belong to young Muslim men, many of them born in Canada as well as Europe and the United States.
The number of adherents to terrorism has grown since al-Qaeda's attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Judd said.
"We are encountering here and elsewhere individuals who are native born in their country showing up as associates or members of terrorist groups," he said.
Nearly 4,000 known Islamist websites
That trend is encouraged by nearly 4,000 Islamist websites and chat rooms that can be found online at any given time. They post everything from video clips of sermons by radical imams to bomb-making manuals, intelligence officials say.
Last year, al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi even managed to publish 23 issues of a sophisticated 40-page online magazine called Al Battah.
Rita Katz, head of an American institute that searches for websites related to militant groups such as al-Qaeda, says Islamic extremists have acquired highly trained experts with a sophisticated knowledge of the internet.
"We have cases of people with PhDs in computers, people who were employed by internet security companies, people who are extremely familiar with the network," she said.
"When you have a U.S. passport [or] a Canadian passport, you can move freely and no one will arrest you."