Four of the five main online forums that al-Qaeda‘s media wing uses to distribute statements by Osama bin Laden and other extremists have been disabled since mid-September, monitors of the Web sites say.
The disappearance of the forums on Sept. 10 — and al-Qaeda’s apparent inability to restore them or create alternate online venues, as it has before — has curbed the organization’s dissemination of the words and images of its fugitive leaders.
With just one authorized al-Qaeda site still in business, “this has left al-Qaeda’s propaganda strategy hanging by a very narrow thread.
It is often impossible to pinpoint the source of such online attacks, though some experts say the culprits could be independent activists.
A U.S. intelligence official, asked about the online attacks, declined to say whether U.S. spy agencies engage in them.
“It’s the first time it’s happened now in three years for al-Qaeda to have only one forum left carrying al-Qaeda’s propaganda stream,” Kohlmann said. The al-Fajr center was created in late 2005.
The sabotage of sites operated by extremist groups makes it more difficult for those groups to inspire attacks and recruit attackers, said Erich Marquardt, editor in chief of the Sentinel, a monthly online publication by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
However, “the downside of knocking jihadist Web sites offline is that you lose the ability to monitor jihadist activities,” eliminating opportunities for Western monitors to search for ideological weaknesses or clues to future operations, Marquardt said. “When these Web sites are taken offline, it closes an important window.”
Biddle, O’Hanlon, and Pollack provide a detailed and balanced assessment of the prospects for a stable Iraq and what the U.S. can do to promote such an outcome. In short, rapaid withdrawal is not it. They argue that U.S. troop strength should remain close to where it is now through 2009, with cuts by half only occuring in the 2010-2011 timeframe.