In the War on Terrorism, the terrorists may have an unusual ally: American internet service providers (ISPs). U.S.-based ISPs provide web-hosting for terrorists ranging from Hamas and Hizbullah to Palestinian Jihad. This cyber-fifth column is illegal, can be prosecuted, and must be shut down if we hope to stop Islamic fundamentalists from winning the hearts and minds of a generation of their young.
The swift action taken last month by the Colorado-based ISP Level3 and the Virginia-based ISP Network Solution prove that this can be done. After being alerted, both ISP’s tracked and shut down Hamas and Hizbollah websites.
Governments can take action, too. Last week, the British government, responding to the U.S. request under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries, ordered the closure of 20 media websites in 17 countries that advocated terrorism.
U.S. government efforts to punish those who provide terrorists with “expert advice or assistance” for operating websites was denounced by Arsalan Iftikhar, the legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), as “open[ing] the floodgates to really marginalizing a lot of the free speech that has been a hallmark of the American legal and political system.” Yet, our war against the plague of Islamist fundamentalism is unlikely to succeed as long as its most virulent organs of communication are allowed to operate freely on the internet and on TV, inciting violence for jihad. Currently, anyone can purchase web-hosting services without providing any real personal information aside from a valid credit card number.
On September 9, 2004, the Treasury Department designated as terrorists the U.S. branch of the Saudi-based Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (AHF). However, on September 10th, a day after Al Haramain was designated as terrorist, its website (www.alharamain.org), which is registered and run by U.S. Director Suliman Al-Buthe – also designated as terrorist - disingenuously stated that America’s financial war on terror is doomed to failure because it is “smearing anyone who attempted to understand the root causes of anti-American terrorism.” Further, in American attempts to part the terrorists from their money, “the collateral damage are the poor, the orphans and the children.”
Al Haramain is also listed as a member on the website of the Friends of Charities Association (www.foca.net), which is registered by the same Suliman Al-Buthe, and hosted by W3Gateway.com, Inc., of Houston, Texas. FOCA was established in January 2004 in Washington, D.C. According to its website, it “represents some of the leading charities who have devoted their existence to translating donor intent into action to relieve suffering illiteracy and poverty around the world.” Among its listed members are two major Saudi organizations with documented ties to Islamists terrorism: the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). The Al Haramain office is still open in Jeddah, despite official announcements of its closure.
And W3Gateway is not the only American web-hosting company providing services to terror organizations. Until a few days ago, Network Solutions hosted both Hezbollah and Palestinian Jihad websites. Both organizations are designated by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations, as is Hamas, which operates its primary English-language site (palestine-info.co.uk) from the Washington, D.C., data center of HopOne Internet Corporation. Network Solution also hosted the website of the Islamic Resistance Support Association (moqawama.org), which carried descriptions of all Islamist terrorists’ attacks, news, and information concerning the “resistance.”
In response to reports that Network Solutions is providing services to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (palestineway.com), a current customer wrote to the company to complain. A company representative responded, “Network Solutions has no responsibility or duty to police the rights of trademark owners concerning domain names.” This response sidesteps the issue, which is that an American company is providing services to a designated terrorist organization (or individual). The Network Solutions representative added that “If the domain owner in question is conducting criminal activity we would ask you to defer to either the police or the proper authorities” – a strange comment, considering the fact that the company is the one conducting activity in violation of U.S. laws and regulations that prohibit any support to terrorists, including selling services to, and receiving money directly or indirectly from designated terrorists, or their representatives.
Network Solutions also provided services to Hassan Nasrallah (Nasrallah.net), the Secretary-General of Hezbollah and a designated terrorist. They would even forward your letter to him if you wrote to: Attn: Nasrallah.net, c/o Network Solutions, P. O. Box 447, Herndon, VA 20172-0447. However, as of last weekend, Network Solutions appears to have suspended palestineway.com, nasrallah.net and moqawama.org.
Mr. Iftikhar claims the U.S. effort to shut down these websites, as limited as it is, “really does nothing but worsen the image of America in the rest of the world.” However, it is not only America that is the target for the Islamists murderous attacks coordinated through their websites.
The Patriot Act, enacted by a huge, bipartisan majority after September 11, 2001, defines the facilitation of communication for terrorist purposes as a terrorist act. Providing internet services to terrorist groups meets that criterion. Congress should enact new legislation requiring American-based ISPs to demand that their clients, the web-hosting companies, identify their customers. This can be done through methods similar to Know Your Customer procedures, which are already in place for American banks. As for foreign Web-hosting companies, OFAC regulations and the executive orders behind them seem to be a perfect control mechanism.
In addition to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties, Congress should also ratify the Council of Europe's Convention on Cyber Crime. Clearly, no convention will not stop states that support terrorism from facilitating terrorists websites and television broadcasting, but limiting their operations and making it more difficult for them, would make a difference. Allowing these websites and TV broadcasts to operate, allegedly to be monitored by the intelligence community, allows the Islamists’ hate propaganda to continue poison the minds of millions worldwide, while the terrorists go on killing.
Rachel Ehrenfeld, a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, is Director of American Center for Democracy, and author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It (Bonus Books, 2004).