October 3, 2008

Spies Take War on Terror into Cyberspace

By Kim Sengupta

New approach tackles 'severe threat' of attacks by funding monitoring network

BRITAIN'S SECURITY agencies are fighting a covert war in cyberspace against extremist Islamist internet sites as part of a new anti-terrorist strategy, senior Whitehall officials have revealed.

As well running its own sites, the Government gives material support to groups that monitor and combat jihadist material on the web in an attempt to prevent indoctrination of young Muslims. The scheme is part of measures being introduced at a time when the threat level is described as being "at the severe end of severe", with, officials say, extremist groups determinedly attempting new attacks.

The Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT), recently set up to co-ordinate operations against al-Qa'ida and its supporters, has been tasked with proactive action to disrupt terrorist networks as well as carrying out a "hearts and minds" campaign within Britain's Muslim population.

One would-be bomber was caught using information received from a mosque. This help, said a senior source, is essential, with increasing evidence of "lone terrorists", many Muslim converts from Christianity, who are difficult to track because they have no "footprints" in established suspect groups.

Lone terrorists, as well as groups of Islamists, are said to be planning bombings based on "kitchen chemistry" and are absorbing an aggressive Islamism from the internet, according to security officials, making it vital that counter-terrorist efforts focus on the web.

"In the past the focus has been on investigation after something has happened. We are now aiming to identify those at risk of being drawn into violent extremism and attempting to counter this," said a Whitehall source.

One internet site, run by the Government, called the Radical Middle Way, has received favourable reactions in the Muslim community. But law agencies feel that sites in the Muslim community should be empowered to present alternatives to jihadist viewpoints.

The OSCT, which is run from the Home Office, helps man four "hubs" across the country, alongside the police and MI5. A fifth hub is due to be set up in the near future, with the aim of liaising with local Muslim groups. One of the tasks of the teams is to monitor the kind of material which may be influencing young Muslims.

Last month the Muslim MP Shahid Malik, minister for International Development, warned parents to be careful about Islamist extremism after Hamaad Munshi became the youngest person in Britain convicted of a terrorist offence. Munshi, from Dewsbury, was 15 when he downloaded information about bomb-making from the internet and hid notes about martyrdom under his bed. An Old Bailey judge said the schoolboy's head had been filled with "pernicious and warped ideas".

Mohammed Irfan Raja, 17, arrested under anti-terrorist laws, was also recruited and radicalised through the internet by a cell based in Bradford and had made plans to travel to receive training at an insurgent camp in Pakistan.

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