BROOKE GLADSTONE: While the argument inexplicably persists over ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam, the terrorist network continues to reach out and touch people on the internet. It's a phenomenon that's difficult to trace -- even to locate -- for non-Arabic-speaking Westerners, but it's nonetheless thriving. In Wednesday's issue of Slate, Radio Free Europe analyst Daniel Kimmage provided a peek at the so-called "Jihadist Internet," and one particularly disturbing website, and he joins us now. Welcome to the show.
DANIEL KIMMAGE: Hello. Nice to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, as you wrote, these pro-Al Qaeda websites aren't so easy to find in cyberspace.
DANIEL KIMMAGE: Well, some of them move addresses frequently because they're tracked; they get shut down. The internet carrier will simply say we don't want to host a site with the incitement to commit acts of terrorism. We don't want to host a site with graphic, gruesome images of mutilated bodies. We simply don't want to be hosting this sort of material.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Would you walk us through some of these pro-Al Qaeda websites? What do they look like?
DANIEL KIMMAGE: They look like your average web forum. In other words, there are postings, and there are threads. In some cases, they use the same internet templates, so they look just like a forum that would be discussing travel. There may be a section that'll be the political section. Then the Islamic Law section. Then the current events section. Maybe an electronic jihad section, and then a literature section, so there'll be poetry.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One entry that was posted in an Al Qaeda on line forum was a detailed description of attack on non-Muslims and Westerners in Saudi Arabia by the author who called himself Fawaz bin Muhammad al-Nashmi. What struck you about that?
DANIEL KIMMAGE: Well, first of all that it's an insider's account of an attack, but of course there's the very important caveat that this may not have happened the way he said, and the way that I was looking at this is an insight into the ideology and the recruiting, because these forums are not where they exchange operational information. But it's where they air the ideas that serve as a recruiting tool, and what struck me about this is that it's a heroic epic account, very clearly meant to inspire others.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here's some quote that you cite in your piece: "I shot him in the head, and his head exploded. I saw the skull of the soldier behind the machine gun explode before me." That's when they were battling security forces.
DANIEL KIMMAGE: And there's a car chase where they run six checkpoints. There's a point where they're driving along the highway in a pickup truck with someone crouched in the back. These are images almost from a Hollywood blockbuster. And what's fascinating about these accounts is you have to remember, they're pitched to an audience that would be very familiar with Hollywood blockbusters, perhaps, and they combine a religious discourse, a political discourse, and these very gripping moments of action. So they're savvy in that they understand the power of the images, and they understand the audience they're pitching it to.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the vocabulary used by al-Nashmi and his fellow jihadist web users? You make a point of describing the recurrence of certain words and how they would resonate.
DANIEL KIMMAGE: Well, in this account -- this is, of course, a real terror attack that occurred in Saudi Arabia, and the vocabulary that he uses is very carefully chosen to evoke not only Saudi Arabia but also Israel and also Iraq which are the two great flashpoints, of course. So he evokes the images of the Occupied Territories with the words "settlements" and "checkpoints," and he evokes images of Iraq with the use of the words "humvees" and "Marines." So, in a sense, this action unfolds in an almost - this virtual landscape of global jihad.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what do narratives like al-Nashmi's tell us about the ideology? What sorts of lessons are there for us in these websites?
DANIEL KIMMAGE: What they can tell us is that the ideas are specific ideas. Many, many op-eds and articles say it's a battle of hearts and minds. Well, what exactly are the ideas that are winning people's minds? In these texts, they see themselves as the victims of a worldwide plot sponsored by the United States, acting in concert with Israel to destroy their very identity and civilization. And they have a way of fighting this. They see Afghanistan and the mujahedeen fight against the Soviet Union as proof that a small group of dedicated holy warriors can bring down a mighty empire. They would like to repeat this with the United States. In these forums, this is where they are building their ideology. It's almost as though it's a open source ideology -- a sort of revolutionary jihadist linux where people are putting it together.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Should we be more worried about these websites than we are? I mean we're hardly aware of them.
DANIEL KIMMAGE: As for the actual websites, I'm not sure that I would blame the medium, here, for the message. I think that it, it may be in some cases a good thing that we can look and analyze. It is the ideology in these websites that of course is worrisome. It's very frightening for everyone. It's terribly frightening for the Muslim and Arab world. It's frightening for America. This is a threat that I think affects all of us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Daniel Kimmage, thank you very much.
DANIEL KIMMAGE: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Daniel Kimmage is the Central Asian analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He also writes about the Middle East and the ideology of jihad. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, in Italy, a journalist quits her job and joins the European Parliament. And in Arizona, investigative reporters forsake competition to avenge a murder.