Jihadist terror organizations have set economic terrorism as their new target, intending to harm and paralyze Western economies, the United Sates in particular, claims Prof. Gabriel Weimann, expert researcher of terrorism over the Internet at the University of Haifa. Prof. Weimann monitored websites hosted by terrorist and terrorism-supporting organizations and concludes: "For the Jihadists, the present economic crisis signifies an ideal opportunity and platform to leverage an economic terrorist campaign."
In the course of a study that was carried out over a number of years, Prof. Weimann surveyed public and encoded websites run by Islamic terrorist organizations, forums, video clips, and practically all the information related to Islamic Jihad terrorism that is flowing through the network.
According to Prof. Weimann, the focus on economic terrorism was set in motion with the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers, when Osama bin Laden stated on the video tapes that he sent out that these attacks mostly damaged the United States' economic base and that these attacks, which cost $500,000 to carry out, cost the U.S. $500 billion.
Other publications by bin Laden himself and by other terrorist leaders show that they understand that Western and U.S. power lies in their economic strength and that the jihad movement should focus on damaging this power by employing various tactics, including: hitting international corporations directly; harming international corporations by means of 1.5 billion Muslims boycotting them, which would pressure the respective governments to adjust their policies; striking at resources that were "looted" from Muslim countries, such as oil-drilling companies in Iraq; assassinating key personalities in the global economy, most of whom they believe are Jews, and killing anyone who collaborates with these personalities.
Monitoring the Muslim terrorist-related information on the Internet, Prof. Weimann also revealed that the armed struggle against the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan is aimed at prolonging American expenditure on maintaining forces in these countries, and not necessarily at military defeat. The jihadists believe that this would help drain America's financial resources and eventually critically damage the American economy. Therefore, they aim to make the U.S. open as many military fronts around the world as possible.
Another result of this new focus on Econo-Jihad is an increasing jihadist interest in websites and online information on the American and Western economies, so as to glean an understanding of how these economies can be hit the hardest. Not only official websites are monitored: forums and e-mails of individual surfers are penetrated too. By tracking Jihadist forums, Prof. Weimann has found that these surfers are increasingly following Western finance-related media publications too, as well as expert and academic analyses of the factors influencing Western economy, such as the war in Iraq, global terrorism, natural disasters, oil prices, unemployment rates, and declines in the stock market.
"One might think that an Econo-Jihad is less violent, but this is not the case. Jihadist Internet monitoring alongside terrorist activity in the field, is evidence that the economic turn actually influences the terrorists' targets, which have included oil-drilling infrastructures, tourism, international economic institutions and more. Indeed, Islamic terrorism's future devices will focus on targets that will yield the most economic damage," Prof. Weimann concludes.
Amir Gilat, Ph.D.
Communication and Media Relations
University of Haifa