Video: Terror in the digital domain

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updated 6/24/2004 3:34:04 PM ET 2004-06-24T19:34:04

When militants used to want to make a point, they would send faxes or videotapes to international news agencies. But now, al Qaida is putting its graphic messages and images straight up on the web—with maximum effect.

Technology has become their latest weapon in their Holy War, particularly free Internet websites, chatrooms, CD burners and DVDs .  One of their missions has become the direct, unfiltered dissemination of their terrorism message instantly to a world audience.

According to Paul Eedle, media expert, “Al Qaida is as much media machine as military organization. These messages are what they want the world to see.”

On Wednesday, when the Al Qaida linked Muslim extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened to assassinate Iraq’s new Prime Minister, he did so on an Islamic website.

Video: Rap video to recruit terrorists Over the past several weeks, other Islamist websites have been used to dramatically confirm the kidnappings, and broadcast the gruesome executions of American victims like Nick Berg in Iraq, and Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia.

Counter-intelligence sources say the militants are cleverly staying one step ahead of the law, even able to hijack websites, like one belonging to a Silicon Valley survey and mapping company to briefly upload its images of the captured Johnson. Experts also believe that al-Qaida recruitment and planning, via the Internet, is on the rise, world-wide.

”They also distribute Guerilla warfare manuals,” says Neil Doyle, a counter-terrorism expert. “I’ve recently seen plans for a cyanide bomb as well.”

But some analysts say al Qaida’s use of digital technology to spread their bloody message can backfire. Intelligence sources think that al Qaida’s former top operative in Saudi Arabia—Abdel Azziz al-Muqrin was found and killed last week, because of leads picked up by police experts on websites al-Muqrin used to show Johnson’s execution.

“The desire to show their brutality may have lead to the undoing of their leadership,” says Jonathan Paris, a Middle East affairs analyst.

But the high-tech tactic will likely continue, with al Qaida able, via the Internet and digital technology, to rally their fellow extremists and frighten their enemies.

This was one of the top stories on Wednesday's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." The show airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET

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