Virtual murder, virtual education
A British Muslim IT student and son of a Moroccan diplomat was accused of being "al Qaeda's top cyber terrorist" by British authorities. Younes Tsouli, 23, "posted included messages from Osama bin Laden and images of the kidnapping and murder of hostages in Iraq such as American Nick Berg."
What's interesting about the Younes case is that it marks "the first time anyone in Britain had been prosecuted for inciting terrorist murder purely based on the Internet"
Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of the Met's counterterrorism operations, said: “It was the first virtual conspiracy to murder that we have seen.” ...
At first intelligence operatives who came across his activities dismissed him as a joke. It was only when anti-terrorist detectives began trawling through files on his computer after his arrest that they realised his true significance. When he was seized, forensic science officers found that Tsouli had been creating a website called YOUBOMBIT.
At his trial at Woolwich crown court a jury heard how the Met trawled through a “hugely gigantic'' amount of material — computers, CDs and memory sticks — to bring Tsouli and two other men to justice.
Detectives found literature urging Muslims to take up the fight against other religions. It was the first time anyone in Britain had been prosecuted for inciting terrorist murder purely based on the internet, the court heard.
The way in which Younes Tsouli became a terrorist is interesting too. He wasn't starving, cold, or lack for money and educational opportunities. Nor did he experience any oppression or violence in Iraq. What radicalized him was what he saw on the Internet.
Tsouli arrived in London in 2001 with his father, a Moroccan diplomat. He studied IT at a college in central London and was quickly radicalised by images of the war in Iraq posted on the internet. By 2003 he had already begun posting his own material including a manual on computer hacking and a year later had moved on to publishing extremist images and al Qaeda propaganda on the web.
Tsouli was undone, ironically, by his own online fame. "In 2005, Tsouli became administrator for the web forum al-Ansat, used by 4,500 extremists to communicate with each other, sharing such practical information as how to make explosives and how to get to Iraq to become a suicide bomber. But the enterprise had become so huge, it began to attract the attention of cyber-trackers who monitor the internet for extremists, leading to Tsouli's arrest."
If Fyodor Dostoevsky were alive today he might very well write a novel from the viewpoint of Tsouli. One can almost imagine him rising to ask a fictional judge, 'where did the crime start? This murderer was recruited by other murderers over the Internet and went on to recruit still more assassins the same way. He was a link in a chain that stretches far back and goes forward until it is out of sight. You call him a virtual murderer and it's true. He deserves jail, but there's something else ...'
When the real Fyodor Dostoevsky described Ivan Karamazov's frustration with the insubstantiality of the Devil in the Brother's Karamazov he might have been talking about the virtual Jihad. Ivan denies that evil ideas matter, that they have a life of their own, but realizes to his dismay that he's talking to the Devil.
"Never for one minute have I taken you for reality," Ivan cried with a sort of fury. "You are a lie, you are my illness, you are a phantom. It’s only that I don’t know how to destroy you and I see I must suffer for a time. You are my hallucination. You are the incarnation of myself, but only of one side of me... of my thoughts and feelings, but only the nastiest and stupidest of them."
We disbelieve in phantoms at our peril. They can take shape, as they did above Manhattan on a bright autumn day oh so long ago and come down for blood. We can jail Younes Tsouli easily enough but to fight the lie, the illness, the phantom, the hallucination, we must must unleash spirits of our own. Ivan's problem was that he couldn't believe in the Devil and consequently kept talking to him.
Do you believe in the Devil? Let's just say Younes Tsouli believed in the Internet Jihad.