Cyberspace as a Combat Zone: The Phenomenon of Electronic Jihad

By: E. Alshech*

February 27, 2007

Alongside military jihad, which has been gaining momentum and extracting an ever growing price from many countries around the globe, Islamists have been developing a new form of warfare, termed “electronic jihad,” which is waged on the Internet. This new form of jihad was launched in recent years and is still in its early stages of development. However, as this paper will show, Islamists are fully aware of its destructive potential, and persistently strive to realize this potential.

Electronic jihad is a phenomenon whereby mujahideen use the Internet to wage economic and ideological warfare against their enemies. Unlike other hackers, those engaged in electronic jihad are united by a common strategy and ideology which are still in a process of formation. This paper aims to present the phenomenon of electronic jihad and to characterize some of its more recent developments. It lays out the basic ideology and motivations of its perpetrators, describes, as far as possible, its various operational strategies, and assesses the short- and long-term dangers posed by this relatively new phenomenon. The paper focuses on electronic jihad waged by organized Islamist groups that mobilize large numbers of hackers around the world to attack servers and websites owned by those whom they regard as their enemies.

Organized Electronic Jihad

In the past few years Islamist websites have provided ample evidence that Islamist hackers do not operate as isolated individuals, but carry out coordinated attacks against websites belonging to those whom they regard as their enemies. [1]As evident from numerous postings on the Islamist websites, many of these coordinated attacks are organized by groups devoted to electronic jihad. Six prominent groups of this sort have emerged on the Internet over the past few years: [2]Hackboy, [3] Ansar Al-Jihad Lil-Jihad Al-Electroni, [4] Munazamat Fursan Al-Jihad Al-Electroni, [5] Majmu’at Al-Jihad Al-Electroni, [6] Majma’ Al-Haker Al-Muslim, and Inhiyar Al-Dolar. [7] All these groups, with the exception of Munazamat Fursan Al-Jihad and Inhiyar al-Dolar, have websites of their own through which they recruit volunteers to take part in electronic attacks, [8] maintain contacts with others who engage in electronic jihad, coordinate their attacks, and enable their members to chat with one another anonymously. The Majmu’at Al-Jihad Al-Electroni website, for example, includes the following sections: A document explaining the nature of electronic jihad, a section devoted to electronic jihad strategy, a technical section on software used for electronic attacks, a section describing previous attacks and their results, and various appeals to Muslims, mujahideen, and hackers worldwide.

A more recent indication of the increasingly organized nature of electronic jihad is an initiative launched January 3, 2007 on Islamist websites: mujahideen operating on the Internet (and in the media in general) were invited to sign a special pact called “Hilf Al-Muhajirin” (“Pact of the Immigrants”). [9] In it, they agree “to stand united under the banner of the Muhajirun Brigades in order to promote [cyber-warfare],” and “to pledge allegiance to the leader [of the Muhajirun Brigades].” They vow to “obey [the leader] in [all tasks], pleasant or unpleasant, not to contest [his] leadership, to exert every conceivable effort in [waging] media jihad… [and to persist] in attacking those websites which do harm to Islam and to the Muslims…” [10] This initiative clearly indicates that the Islamist hackers no longer regard themselves as loosely connected individual activists, but as dedicated soldiers who are bound by a pact and committed to a joint ideological mission.

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