As informed Muslims know, present-day radical Islamists have proven adept at using the internet – far more than have their moderate and Western opponents. "Internet savvy" jihadism appears as evidence of the youthful constituency of the extremists. They have grown up with the internet, video games, and other online diversions. When fanatical ideology takes hold of them, the internet is one of the obvious places for the process to begin.
In an important 2003 article in The Weekly Standard, entitled "The Islamic Terrorism Club," Stephen Schwartz, wrote about some of the more obnoxious pro-jihad Arabic-language websites then operating from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The jihad-net expanded considerably in the decade that followed.
Even before September 11, 2001, however, many Muslims who opposed the fundamentalists were focusing on Islamist websites in English, as a means to anticipate threats from radicals.
With Britain targeted for recruitment to the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" [IS] and the IS's brutal campaign in Syria and Iraq, these sites, which remain operating, are still important and accessible to both the Muslim and non-Muslim public. They are exceptionally educational about the aims and methods of Islamist demagogues.
On September 25, the London Daily Telegraph reported on the pervasive influence of radical Islam on the internet. The article quoted Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal, a British Muslim mother, who said, "the internet is the real problem when it comes to young people being radicalised: 'The biggest issue right now is the internet – it's Sheikh Google.'" The Telegraph went with the quote in its headline: "Forget radicalisation in mosques – 'Sheikh Google' is the real threat to young Muslims."
(Image source: muslimvillage.com)
A standard source for monitoring jihadist agitation is Islamic Awakening. It has an extensive archive worth studying, and is eclectic in its postings, which are anti-radical as well as radical. On October 18, 2014, for instance, its headings under "Global Affairs" included: "America is One Sick Place," a thread begun in 2009, and "Kurdish Murtads [Apostates from Islam] Are Going on a Rampage in Turkey," posted a few days earlier. The latter is an explicit pro-ISIS comment that accuses Kurds of defending themselves against charges of apostasy, or leaving Islam, because their ranks include secularist "leftists."
Another well of Islamist venom is Sunni Forum. On October 18, 2014, its lead item under "Current Affairs," dating from July 23, 2006, was a protest in favor of Guantánamo detainees, entitled, "I Have Tried to Kill Myself Twice…" The second, first posted on July 21, 2006, is a petition defending Syed Talha Ahsan, a British-born jihadist author who was extradited from the UK to the U.S. Ahsan was tried by the American authorities and, with another defendant and UK citizen, Babar Ahmed, pled guilty to charges of promoting the Taliban when it protected Al-Qaida, and to assisting other violent groups, via the internet.
Sunni Forum appears not to have kept "current" on its "affairs" on the Ahsan-Ahmed case. In July 2014, based on plea bargains by the British pair, Ahsan's U.S. sentence was reduced to time already served. He was to be deported back to the UK. Ahmed's sentence of 12 years was almost over, including his imprisonment in Britain, before he was extradited to America in 2012. Ahmed was expected to be returned to Britain to serve out the brief remainder of his prison term. Further developments are undisclosed.
These mild legal outcomes indicate that U.S. judicial officials do not appreciate how inflammatory the materials produced by Ahsan and Ahmed are, but any Muslim who reads them would instantly recognize propaganda for Al-Qaida and its ultra-Wahhabi allies.
Other, similar, internet sites include: Yanabi.com, the title of which means, in Arabic, "O Prophet," referring to Muhammad. A review on October 18 showed threads, including "Why Does Allah Threaten to Punish the Unbelievers?" and the weird claim that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ruled by a "Jewish government" because it has installed closed-circuit television in Mecca and Medina. Allowing photography would ostensibly nullify the sacred character of the hajj pilgrimages because of the alleged Islamic prohibition on depiction of humans. Such fantasies are old and absurd. Saudi Arabia has done much more damage to the hajj by heedless urban expansion in Mecca and Medina than by placing cameras; taking photographs is offensive only to the most primitive Wahhabi zealots.
Finally, no review of radical Islamist websites in English would be complete without consulting Salafi Talk, a site promoting Wahhabi doctrine. "Salafi," referring to the original three generations of Muslims living with, and immediately after, Muhammad, has been abused as a cover term for "Wahhabi." Wahhabis who call themselves "Salafi" do not follow the examples of the early Muslims, but claim the term "Salafi" as an indicator of rigidity against the passage of centuries, and because they know that admitting they are Wahhabis alienates many Muslims.
Viewed on October 18, SalafiTalk included materials glorifying the retrograde views of Abdullah Bin Baz, (1910-1999), the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia from 1993 to 1999. After the terrorist seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 by the ultra-Wahhabi Juhayman Al-Otaibi, Bin Baz was known as Al-Otaibi's mentor, and, following the attack on the Grand Mosque, as the theological protector of radical ideology in the kingdom. Bin Baz endorsed the cultural devastation of Mecca and Medina, and forbade conservation of Islamic heritage – such as monuments associated with Muhammad and his family and companions – as a supposed temptation to polytheism (shirk). He additionally condemned traditional spiritual observances by hajj pilgrims. These include prayer at the cave of Hira, where Muhammad received his first revelations, as "polytheism," equating the prophet with Allah, purportedly, as an object of worship.
SalafiTalk included, when accessed recently, publicity for one of Bin Baz's most famous Wahhabi disciples, Sayyid Bin Ali Bin Wahf Al-Qahtani, author of Hisnul Muslim (Fortress of the Muslim), a Wahhabi prayer book translated into many languages, including English, and circulated widely.
Fortress of the Muslim is also sold as a printed volume in mosques. Thus, the poison of radical ideology circulates from the web portal back to the mosque. At present, however, extremist websites are a most significant and dangerous portal for the radicalization of young Muslims.