Cyberwar and Jihadist Hackers

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The story of jihadist hackers could play in Syria or Iraq, where young men from all over the world set up digital and secure networks to chat and plan new missions. Instead this story starts in the northernmost state in Germany: Schleswig-Holstein. A small state with only 2.8 mio people, but with beautiful landscape, stretched between water (North Sea on the western shore, Baltic Sea on the east) and a lot of cow. Over months two colleagues and me investigated the salafi-scene here, that is seen as the back country of Hamburg (where one of the 9/11 pilots studied) by some experts.

So we found out that even in this really rural area there is quite an activity in the scene: terror and propaganda videos are uploaded from computers in the region, money is collected and sent abroad and one young man gains money from supposedly illegal dealings in the dark net.

And security and intelligence agencies drag behind. One spokesman of the german federal police (BKA) told us, that they often find heavily secured computers and hard drives during investigations. Data analysis would often be impossible, prosecution not possible. So my colleagues and me investigated three cases of jihadi activities on the internet:

Case I: Money for Syria

In June 2012 police searches the house of Ismael S. in a small city called Husum in northern germany. There they find several computers and 12.000 Euro cash. Ismael had strond ties with islamistic leaders in Great Britian and was the owner of a website, that raised money for “our brothers in Syria”. Shortly after the police came to his house, he left germany. Supposedly to Syria or Iraq. The authorities don’t know about his current location.

Case II: Propaganda and murder call

The same year, 2012, young Isa al Khattab is sentenced to more than three years in jail. Not only did he threaten the chairman of a jewish community, but he supported several terror groups in the Middle East and Africa. He uploaded dozens of terror- and propaganda videos to the internet.

Case III: Illegal Dealings in the dark net

Only this spring was another police operation in a suburb of Hamburg. Nader H supposedly gained more than 100.000 Euro with illegal “bank drop” dealings in the dark net. Though federal police BKA didn’t answer if there is a connection between the illegal money and islamic state support, we found out, that Nader is part of a small salafistic group that is still active, though it was prohibited by the german interior ministry in 2012. The groups name is “Millatu Ibrahim” (The Community of Abraham).

But still the group is very active and still meets privately after their mosque has been closed. There is also a german group of “Millatu Ibrahim” in Syria, because many of the group leaft germany after MI was prohibited. The head of the group in Syria is supposed to be Abu Talha al Almani, some intelligence officers told us. Abu Talha, the former german rapper Dennis Cuspert, who is kind of a spokesperson for the Islamic State.

IT-Experts told us, that police and intelligence agencies are often dragging behind. So we didn’t wonder when we found out that the police operation i.e. in the house of Nader H wasn’t their first visit to him. They have conficated hard drives and computers already in 2012, but since then didn’t manage to get the data and crack security measures of Nader H.

On the other hand the salafistic scene is not only using open source and yet available software to communicate and secure their data, they are also working on their own software, that is already available, as one insider told us. And they are often moving one step ahead. Because even if someone out of the group is imprisoned, it only makes the scene stronger in a way. So one islamist hacker told us: “During the prosecution I had insight in all the files. So I knew how intelligence worked. And I won’t be foolish again.”

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