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Report: Internet Has Become Key Tool for Terrorists

A new report prepared for the U.S. Congress says the worldwide web has become a key tool used by terrorists to spread their message and recruit followers. The study says the U.S. government has not done enough to fight the terrorists in cyberspace. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The study, prepared by a task force under the direction of the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, says terrorist organizations have become more sophisticated in using the Internet to recruit new fighters, sympathizers and financial supporters.

The report was presented Thursday to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an independent Democrat:

"The task force report tells us that the people who create these web-based extremist propaganda and recruitment operations have a slogan, and it is 'keyboard equals Kalashnikov,'" said Mr. Lieberman.

The co-chairman of the task force, Frank Cilluffo, says on-line chat rooms have become a favorite tool of terrorists.

"Internet chat rooms are now supplementing and replacing mosques, community centers and coffee shops as venues for recruitment and radicalization," he explained.

The report says the Internet has served as a vehicle for spreading an extremist belief system, including the willingness to use or support violence to bring about social change.

Task force member Michael Doran is Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Support to Public Diplomacy:

"In fact, the web has created conditions that make it possible for us to imagine a wholly new type of terrorist network, one that is almost entirely virtual, composed of individuals who are not personally known to each other, but who are animated by the same ideology and willing to coordinate actions in pursuit of it," he said.

Doran says some groups change their web servers frequently, sometimes daily, posing a challenge to those in the U.S. government who are working to locate hostile sites and assess their content.

He says the U.S. government could do more to counter terrorist ideology online by using what he calls the strongest weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the power of freedom.

"The answer to the terrorist message of tyranny, intolerance, and violent extremism is to effectively communicate the alternative vision: freedom, tolerance and mutually beneficial cooperation," he added.

The task force also recommends the United States hire more intelligence officers to infiltrate chat rooms and step up efforts to forge better relations with the Muslim world through cultural exchange and dialogue.