Internet Hubris: Canadian Terrorist Hoisted By Own Petard

9 Oct 2009 by CST

This is a cross post by Tim Stevens from FREErad!cals, the blog of the ICSR.

It should be apparent by now but, in the broad and complex field that is the confluence of the internet and terrorism, what is good for the goose is nearly as good for the gander. 

The Canadian trial and conviction of Saïd Namouh on terrorism charges shows that evidence gleaned from internet use can counterbalance the terrible things that wannabe and actual jihadists are said to be doing online.

A lot has been written about online anonymity and whilst it's true that aliases can be used to mask identity, and various tools are available to hide one's physical location, there are very often cracks in one's system that can be exploited by investigative agencies to generate actionable intelligence and evidence admissible in many judicial systems. 

There are, of course, serious problems with both the gathering and consequent admissibility of this type of evidence, but neither we – nor terrorists – should assume that an individual's ability to evade detection is necessarily that great.

In Namouh's case, the National Post describes his internet use as revealed in court:

Hundreds of pages of transcribed conversations, retrieved from password-protected web sites and Namouh's computer, proved that he was an active member of the Global Islamic Media Front, a propaganda arm for al-Qaeda and smaller terrorist cells in Gaza and Somalia … he worked tirelessly to spread videos glorifying jihad and offering bomb-making tips.  He assured a colleague that he was free from the surveillance he might have attracted in a big city.

In March, 2007, he created Internet links to publicize a video warning the governments of Germany and Austria that they would suffer terror attacks if their troops were not withdrawn from Afghanistan.  Then, that May, he provided art for a communiqué by the Army of Islam, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping in Gaza of BBC reporter Alan Johnston and demanding the release of prisoners.

In August, 2007, authorities began to intercept Mr. Namouh's Internet chats, revealing plans to explode a truck bomb outside Canada.

'I have the information and experience for acquisition of explosives in a country and the way to have them easily,' he said at one point.  Later he discussed plans to travel to North Africa and said, 'Terrorism is in our blood, and with it we will drown the unjust.'  He said his dream was that he die a martyr and that his son in Morocco grow up to be a mujahedeen.  Namouh was arrested by the RCMP on Sept. 12, 2007, as he prepared his departure.

Namouh will be sentenced on 13 November, and will doubtless serve several years in jail, but the GIMF and many other organisations will continue to produce and disseminate propaganda on behalf of the jihad.  Other people will persist in plotting to commit violent acts in Canada and elsewhere.  Assuming that proper and consistent legal provisions are brought to bear on the use of the internet for planning terrorist acts, the Namouh conviction is another signal that violent extremists do not act with impunity in cyberspace.

Tim Stevens is the co-author of the policy reportCountering Online Radicalisation: A Strategy for Action, published by ICSR in partnership with CST.

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