Wiesbaden, Germany, Nov 22 The Internet has become a key teaching tool for Islamist militants who are using it to educate recruits in cyber training camps, crime and security experts said today.
Gabriel Weimann, an Israeli Internet security expert who teaches at the University of Haifa in Israel and the University of Mainz in Germany, said yesterday militants used to do all their training at secret camps in countries like Afghanistan.
''Now they meet in cyberspace,'' Weimann told an annual meeting of global crime and security specialists at the headquarters of Germany's Federal Police Office (BKA).
He said Islamist groups like al Qaeda used Web sites and chat rooms not only for propaganda but also for education.
''They teach people how to become terrorists on-line,'' Weimann said. ''Al Qaeda has launched a practical Web site that shows how to use weapons, how to carry out a kidnapping, how to use fertilizer to make bombs.'' Iraqi insurgents are also using publicly available satellite images from the Google Earth Internet portal to locate targets for attacks, Weimann said. Another disturbing aspect is that children can be exposed to militant Islamist ideas on line.
Weimann, who has been studying militants' use of Web sites for nearly a decade, displayed images from a video posted on the Internet which showed children re-enacting the 2004 beheading of US contractor in Iraq Nicholas Berg.
Berg is widely believed to have been beheaded by a group led by the late al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
BRING COUNTRIES TO THEIR KNEES
BKA President Joerg Ziercke said the amount of criminal activity on the Internet had increased by 40 per cent last year to 165,000 cases in Germany.
Such crimes included the distribution of child pornography, organised crime, economic crime, industrial espionage and even the planning of terrorist acts, Ziercke said.
''The destructive potential of the Internet is immense,'' he said. ''With the Internet, perpetrators can be in a position to bring companies, even whole countries, to their knees.'' He said crime fighters had trailed hopelessly behind criminals when it came to grasping the Internet's potential and it was time to devote resources to catch up with ''the digital quantum leap terrorists and hard criminals'' have made.
Michael Hange, vice president of Germany's Federal Office for Information Technology Security, warned the audience all the necessary cyber attack tools were available on the Internet.
''IT vulnerabilities and the proliferation of malware (malicious software) have increased considerably and the victims are mostly being specifically targeted by increasingly sophisticated methods,'' Hange said.
Ziercke said it was troubling that half of German firms still had no official information technology security strategy and repeated a call for Germany to permit on-line searches of suspects' computers using ''Trojan horse'' spyware.
On-line searches are illegal in Germany, where people are sensitive about police surveillance due to the history of Nazi Gestapo secret police and the former East German Stasi.