Mending The Net

By New York Sun | by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld
Monday, September 13th, 2004 @ 8:02PM

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda, as well as other terrorist and criminal groups, are using our communications infrastructure and our democratic belief in freedom of speech to advance their cause – spreading hate and incitement to commit terrorist acts. Terrorist groups are using Web sites to recruit, build morale, contact one another, and deliver instructions from their headquarters to their members around the world. However, we don’t have to stand by helplessly while they go about the business of trying to destroy us. The terrorists’ Web sites can be shut down, especially when the Internet service providers are American. A case in point is the decommissioning of three hate-spouting Palestinian Islamic Jihad Web sites. The PIJ was formed in the Gaza Strip in 1979, following the Islamic revolution in Iran. Its headquarters are in Damascus, Syria, and it operates with primary financial support from Iran and Syria.

The Department of Justice noted that “the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world” when it announced the indictment of PIJ’s North American leader, Sami al-Arian, last year. Despite this indictment, despite being designated as a terrorist organization by the Department of State as far back as October 1997, and despite being on the European Union’s list of terrorists and terrorist organizations, a new study by the Center for Special Studies in Israel, which presently may be viewed at discloses that the PIJ’s internet infrastructure is provided mainly by American internet service providers. These American internet service providers – VONOC, Alabanza, and Level3 – provided services for Web-hosting companies that in turn host the PIJ’s primary Web sites. Level3, when first approached by this author, pointed out that the PIJ is not its client per se. Level3 was providing the PIJ with network access while a wholesale client of Level3 actually managed the “client relationship” with the terrorist organization. Ultimately, Level3 acknowledged that PIJ sites were on their network.Level3 contacted their client, and as a result the sites were decommissioned.

Network Solutions, another ISP, plays a vital role in keeping the PIJ Web site online. They host the “shell” of the site, technically known as a frameset, and the PIJ loads content into that shell from whatever site of theirs happens to be online at any given moment. posts announcements about the PIJ’s activities, recommends its Publications, and praises Palestinian suicide bombers. is currently pulling content from, which is running on yet another Level3 Internet provider address and is hosted by a different wholesale client of Level3. On August 31, the PIJ issued a statement on claiming “Zionist elements shut down three PIJ Web sites in an effort to silence the voice of the Palestinian fighter. Those Web sites will be up soon again.” The Algeria registered domain name “” is serviced by the American-based domain name registrar VeriSign. The Beirut-registered PIJ domain is running on a Level3 IP address, with hosting services provided by, a small company in Terre Haute, Ind. Another PIJ Web site,, is the official site of the “Jerusalem Battalions,” the operational wing of the PIJ. This site, registered in Beirut, lists the latest information about the group’s terrorist activities as well as the wills of suicide bombers and praise for their memories. As of this writing, two days after Level3 alerted its client – the Web-hosting company that had the client relationship with PIJ – is down. This same company hosted and has now removed two other sites of Palestinian Islamic Jihad:, a PIJ site dedicated to promoting the current leader of the organization, Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, and, which is dedicated to the memory of the founder of the group, Fathi Shaqaqi, a terrorist killed in 1995.

Another Internet service provider, Alabanza, in Baltimore, provided network access to a Beirut-registered PIJ domain, This PIJ domain appears to be still hosted by Backbone Internet, a company in Florida. Backbone is likely a wholesale customer of Alabanza. In the meantime, Aaron Weisburd, director of Internet Haganah, the foremost terrorist Web sites monitoring organization, discovered that, as announced on, the three Web sites,, and – made efforts to come back online, this time in Switzerland. However they were not successful, as the Swiss ISP was contacted and also chose not to do business with, or facilitate the communications of, a terrorist organization. The Patriot Act, enacted by a huge, bipartisan majority after September 11, 2001, defines the facilitation of communication for terrorist purposes as a terrorist act. Providing Internet services to terrorist groups meets that criterion, and one can only wonder what the Department of Homeland Security is doing to identify and stop Web-hosting companies from providing services to terrorist organizations. Clearly, such information is obtainable, and terrorists’ Web sites can be removed from the Internet, as proved by the swift action taken by Level3. Level3’s swift action demonstrated that terrorist Web sites, which are being used as a very effective weapon against us, can be identified and shut down. Currently, one can purchase Web-hosting services without providing any real information whatsoever aside from a valid credit card number. Congress should enact new legislation requiring American-based ISPs to demand that their clients, the Web hosting companies, identify their customers. This can be done through methods similar to Know Your Customer procedures, which are already in place for American banks. As for foreign Web-hosting companies, OFAC regulations and the executive orders behind them seem to be a perfect control mechanism. In addition, the Senate should ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cyber Crime. This convention would enable the enforcement of laws, strip another weapon from the terrorists’ arsenal, and help prevent the Islamist fundamentalists’ hate agenda from proliferating across the Internet.


Ms. Ehrenfeld is a member of the Committee On The Present Danger (, a bipartisan education and advocacy organization dedicated to building a national consensus for fighting terror around the globe.She is the author of “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It,” and director of the American Center for Democracy.

Categories: Cyber, U.S. Policy

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