Fascinating WSJ article about al Qaeda on the web: prosaic, pervasive, dangerous, ultimately a failure – just like al Qaeda itself. Here’s how it ends:
- Much of the software on the Kabul computer was pirated. This included a program that muttered Bism Allah (“in the name of God”) each time the machine was booted up. Al Qaeda apparently ignored a request from the program’s designers in Pittsburgh for a $24.95 registration fee. The program had been unregistered for 81 days when Kabul fell last Nov. 13.
Also tight-fisted was Mr. Ali, the Egyptian who registered maalemaljihad.com in China. In February 2001, the Internet company hired the prior year informed Mr. Ali that his contract for server space would expire unless he paid an additional fee. Mr. Ali, says his Chinese translator, declined to pay.
His reluctance to cough up was motivated in part by dissatisfaction with the Chinese site’s erratic operation, e-mail traffic stored on the Kabul computer indicates. “I want you to try to enter and use the site. If you are able to do so I will call the company and pay the renewal fees,” says an unsigned message from the same Hotmail account Abu Qatada had been told to use to contact the “brothers.” A few weeks later, Mr. Ali decided to renew the account after all, paying an additional $120 to Chen Rongbin, the technician who visited his apartment earlier. Mr. Chen sent it to Sinonets in Beijing.
But now the bookkeepers messed up. Sinonets says the accounting department mislaid Mr. Ali’s money. The renewal order was never processed. Maalemaljihad.com crashed.
The site’s Pakistan-registered twin staggered on for several months but then crashed in the summer of 2001 after Mr. Bakht failed to pay renewal charges. Islamists still had many communications outlets sympathetic to Mr. bin Laden and Dr. Zawahri, but not the “special Web site” supervised from al Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan.
Fat’hi, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad veteran who helped organize the Web sites’ content, died in a U.S. bombing raid in Afghanistan. Those who set up the Web sites vanished, but one figure stayed in touch. At a London gathering of Islamic radicals in July, the organizer read a statement of support he said he’d received via the Web from an absent champion of global jihad: Abu Qatada.
Late last month, British police raiding a south London public housing block seized the Palestinian cleric. He has not been charged but is being held as a terror suspect under a new British law introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks that permits the detention without trial of foreigners deemed a danger to national security.
Held in a high-security jail, he has not responded publicly to his arrest. But Islamist supporters denounced his detention, mostly via statements on the Internet such as “May Allah secure his rapid release.”
May Allah give them exactly what they deserve.