Militant groups are using the Internet to rally followers and boast of deadly new attacks — and they’re using American-owned Web hosts to do it, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
On March 25, a purported Taliban Web site called the voice of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" heralded a deadly attack on coalition forces in the country. The site claimed four soldiers were killed in the ambush and the "mujahideen took the weapons and ammunition as booty."
The message, while written by the Taliban across the globe, was broadcast from Texas.
Web hosts like ThePlanet, located in Houston, are falling victim to the militant efforts, renting cyberspace at inexpensive prices and unknowingly becoming the voice of extremists.
"The relatively cheap expense and high quality of U.S. servers seems to attract jihadists," Rita Katz, co-founder of the Site Intelligence Group, told the Post.
Pakistan has reportedly vented to U.S. officials about militants' use of American Internet services since last fall, when an investigation found the Mumbai attackers made Internet phone calls though a server based in Houston.
The paper said the issue is raising tensions among diplomats and intelligence communities in both countries and sparked debate in the search for a solution.
Analysts, however, said allowing the sites to remain online can sometimes give intelligence analysts a chance to locate clues about the structure and leadership of terrorist groups.
"You can learn a lot from the enemy by watching them chat online," Martin Libicki, a senior policy analyst at a nonprofit research organization, told the Post.
Militant messages on the Web, they say, are also more likely used for "public affairs" rather than to spill secrets.
Experts and intelligence officials say Islamist groups have sought out American firms dozens of times as the trend appears to be growing.
Representatives for ThePlanet and Tulix, an Atlanta-based company used by the Taliban, say they act quickly to shut down sites that spread violent or hateful messages.