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Saudi Arabia: Combating Al-Qaeda Online | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Online blogs have become a phenomenon, yet they now serve as a means to broadcast extremist ideologies, a matter touched upon by the Saudi Interior Ministry last week. As a result, questions have been raised about how to access such websites and forums, and who is able to do so, particularly with regards to al-Qaeda and other radical organizations.

According to information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, a mere 800 dollars can provide you with a powerful voice in an electronic arena full of religious hardliners and extremists. However, it is impossible to discuss anything that contradicts their thinking, views, tendencies, or judgment.

During Asharq Al-Awsat’s research into online blogs, and their use in promoting Al-Qaeda’s ideology, this journalist obtained an e-mail entitled “Be an Extremist Takfiri, and Welcome to the Political Arena”. This e-mail had been addressed to a member of an extremist website, who had subsequently been suspended from participation, and had his membership revoked, as a result of his disagreement with the website administrators and supervisors.

The website “Al-Hora.net”, which has unrivaled prominence in the Gulf region, and perhaps in the Arab world, has been subjected to repeated screenings during the past few years, and strong surveillance operations. These operations have ignited a fierce war – if we can use the expression – between website members and security authorities. The security services are strengthening their surveillance of Internet activity, especially after it has been proven that some “extremists” have been commissioned by al-Qaeda leaders to use the Internet to pass on instructions or warnings, using “codes” that cannot be understood except by members of the organization.

Al-Qaeda is now breathing its last breath in Saudi Arabia, after security forces have been able to halt its operations, and expose its plots. Such operations would have resulted in grave consequences, had al-Qaeda been able to implement them.

For example, several years ago, in the beginning of their fierce war with al-Qaeda, Saudi security forces were able to injure and capture an al-Qaeda member during a security confrontation in a district of eastern Riyadh (Al-Rabwah District).This man was called “Akhu Min Ta’a Allah [Brother of Anyone Who Obeys God]”, and was an important figure for Saudi security and intelligence authorities, who were tracing leads to the organization, particularly the sleeper cells. The 25 year old Akhu Min Ta’a Allah was a specific lead for the security forces, as he was responsible for passing on al-Qaeda’s “codes and symbols,” i.e. the instructions from the organization’s leaders, to the younger members.

After arresting the man, the Saudi security authorities, along with other Internet surveillance groups, determined that it was necessary to tighten their grip on websites and online forums, which al-Qaeda relied upon to convey its instructions. The authorities implemented highly-precise and well-constructed technical programs, in order to monitor and survey any suspicious movements that might appear on the Internet.

Saudi surveillance authorities opted to close any website that was suspected of being used to pass on or convey information that symbolized, in any shape or form, the al-Qaeda organization, its tendencies, or its members. After Saudi Arabia’s ‘war on terror’, the number of the Internet websites used by al-Qaeda members has declined, but at the same time the number of the websites blocked by Saudi surveillance authorities has increased.

After the Saudi security authorities had placed such websites under their microscope, some extremists began to communicate indirectly on blog websites. These blog websites had been established by other extremist members, as an offshoot to the original websites which were under surveillance. As a result, there were now several electronic forums which al-Qaeda members could use to communicate.

It only costs a few hundred dollars to become the owner of a blog website. As a result, it is very easy to become a kind of electronic “theorist”, if your vision and tendencies are congruent with what is being proposed in this online forum. The process of acquiring a blog is simple: Someone will explicitly reveal on an internet forum that they own a blog website, and they will then be made a financial offer to sell it, which might range – according to the prominence of the blog – between 1,000 and 3,000 riyals (800 dollars).

Internet surveillance teams are concerned with the number of visitors reading the content and opinions on these websites. Some websites have more than 100,000 visitors, and the number of participants sometimes exceeds tens of thousands.

Some members of blog websites also provide additional services, such as receiving e-mails from those who do not have a blog, and then offering to publish their opinions. However, if this opinion does not resonate with whoever receives the e-mail, then it is highly unlikely to ever be published.

The phenomenon of internet blogging was revealed explicitly in an announcement from the Saudi Interior Ministry, last week. The ministry stressed that through its surveillance of extremist ideas, relayed through websites on the Internet, it has discovered, and has been able to arrest, blog users such as “Qatil, Anwar, Al-Muhib Bi-Allah, Abu-Rayyan, Al-Asad al-Muhajir, Al-Gharibah, Bint-Najd al-Habibah, and Al-Najm al-Sati.”