A London-based fundamentalist Islamic cleric with known ties to Osama bin Laden said al Qaeda and various other fundamentalist Muslim groups around the world are actively planning to use the Internet as a weapon in their "defensive" jihad, or holy war, against the West.
In an exclusive interview Monday with Computerworld, Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, founder of the London-based group Jama'at Al-Muhajirun and the spokesperson for Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, said all types of technology, including the Internet, are being studied for use in the global jihad against the West.
"In a matter of time you will see attacks on the stock market," Bakri said, referring specifically to the markets in New York, London, and Tokyo.
His comments represent the first time that a high-profile radical Muslim cleric with known links to bin Laden has spoken publicly about the use of cybertactics for offensive purposes.
Tech Weaponry Sought
According to Bakri, a Syrian-born Muslim cleric whom the FBI and British intelligence have tied to some of the September 11 hijackers and others seeking flight training in the United States, Islam justifies the use of "all types of technologies" in the defense of Muslim lands, including psychological and economic weapons "or a weapon of mass destruction."
Jihad groups around the world are very active on the Internet, Bakri said, speaking from a cell phone near his north London office. And while his group, Jama'at Al-Muhajirun, is primarily focused on supporting the political goals of al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups, Bakri said the military wings of these various groups are also using and studying the Internet for their own operations.
"That is what al Qaeda is skillful with," said Bakri. "I would not be surprised if tomorrow I hear of a big economic collapse because of somebody attacking the main technical systems in big companies," he said, referring to an ongoing threat of an attack.
The threat of cyberterrorism and online attacks is being assessed by various governmental agencies that are developing plans to counter them. Several possible scenarios, including one involving the stock market, have been studied.
To date, al Qaeda's cybercapabilities have been the subject of much debate. Most Internet security professionals have doubted such groups' interest in cybertactics on the grounds that physical bombings and other forms of attack provide the fear and bloodshed that al Qaeda is looking for. However, in recent statements made by bin Laden, the terror leader has shown a clear desire to inflict catastrophic damage on the U.S. economy as a way to force the United States to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan and to curtail its support for Israel.
"There are millions of Muslims around the world involved in hacking the Pentagon and Israeli government sites," said Bakri. "The struggle will continue," he said, referring to the millions of young bin Laden supporters who are now studying computer science as a way to support the cause.
"I believe that Osama bin Laden has earned his leadership, and most [Muslim students] who are graduating in computer science and computer programming and IT technology are supporting Osama bin Laden," Bakri said.
"I would advise those who doubt al Qaeda's interest in cyberweapons to take Osama bin Laden very seriously," he said. "The third letter from Osama bin Laden a few months ago was clearly addressing using the technology in order to destroy the economy of the capitalist states.
"This is a matter that is very clear, and Osama bin Laden must be taken very seriously."