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Islamist propaganda video
Image: picture alliance / dpa


February 16, 2012

German authorities warn the number of Islamists being radicalized on the Internet is on the rise. Since 9/11, the web propaganda has become the most important recruitment platform for Islamist terrorists.


Arid Uka is 22 years old. One week ago, the thin and shy young man received a life sentence from a Frankfurt court. In March 2011, he killed two US soldiers and injured two others at Frankfurt airport.

What drove him to the terrorist attack was a video on the Internet showing what allegedly were US soldiers raping a Muslim woman. The airport attack was the first Islamist terror act carried out in Germany.

A few days before the attack, Uka changed his profile on facebook, taking the battle name of Abu Reyyan.

After the airport shooting, Islamist websites were quick to praise him: "Alhamdulillah – brother Abu Reyyan has killed two Americans in Frankfurt; he killed two enemies of Allah and injured another two. Brother Abu Reyyan has done brilliant work, Alhamdulillah."


Police say Uka's case is typical - a growing number of young isolated individuals are becoming radicalized through the Internet. The web is overflowing with texts, photos, and videos promoting terrorism. Judith Tinnes from Saarbrücken University is an expert on radical Islam on the Internet. She says that since the start of the so-called war on terror after September 11, the web has become the most important medium for Islamist terror networks.

Site of Frankfurt airport attack
The Frankfurt airport attack left two US soldiers deadImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"Islamists have a special word for this kind of online activity," Tinnes explains. "They call it electronic holy war, or electronic jihad or simply e-jihad." And the terrorists are aware that e-jihad is now at least as important as fighting on the actual battlefield.

Islamist propaganda video
Islamist videos also circulate the web in European languagesImage: AP/IntelCenter

Web propaganda in European languages

While in past years, it was mostly Arabic websites spreading Islamist propaganda, by now the call for jihad can be found in any western language - also in German. And those behind the Internet propaganda have a sophisticated distribution network.

"At the center you have those websites that are run by Islamist administrators and so-called correspondents from the terror organizations," Tinnes explains. "This material is then picked up by other pages, and from there it'll make it's way to yet another circle of websites."

This allows propaganda videos to be spread across the Internet very quickly and it's precisely those videos that contribute greatly to the radicalization of potential Islamists surfing the web, says Benno Köpfer, specialist for Islamist terrorism at the Stuttgart branch of Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Especially videos showing the abuse of Muslims by western troops in Afghanistan can do a lot of damage. "Such pictures are bound to trigger strong emotions and they resonate with young men who often feel they've got to fight against this injustice," Köpfer warns.

Leaving Germany to fight a holy war

Another young man motivated by the propaganda videos was Abdullah, or Migdaad, a German-Afghan from Essen. In November 2010, he went to Afghanistan to join a Taliban training camp. Only a few months later he died near Kunduz fighting against US troops.

Eric Breininger
The German convert Breininger died fighting for the TalibanImage: picture-alliance /dpa

Migdaad was part of a growing number of young jihadists from Germany. Many have an immigrant background, others are converts who have only recently turned to Islam. The convert Eric Breiniger was once Germany's most wanted terror suspect. In 2007 he dropped off the radar and later surfaced in Pakistan, where he died in 2010, aged 23.

"The jihadists are getting younger all the time," Köpfer says. "Teenagers between 12 and 14 years old are already exposed to propaganda, pinpointing the good, evil and the enemy."

Tracking them down before they can go to Afghanistan or Pakistan or carry out an attack in Germany is one the police's most pressing tasks in fighting terrorism.

Author: Bettina Marx / ai
Editor: Neil King

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