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Terrorists spread their messages online

A growing number of Al Qaeda websites offer instructions for kidnapping and killing victims.

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Al Battar, the Al Qaeda site that published the kidnapping instructions, has published several other how-to pieces. There are tutorials on all aspects of explosives, including improvised car bombs; poisons, including ricin; intelligence; and executions - "detailed in scary, scary ways," says Weimann. [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly attributed Weimann's quote to an intelligence officer.]

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The kidnapping tutorial, he explains, is particularly chilling in light of the growing numbers of abductions taking place in Iraq - with a number of them employing gruesome tactics.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi allegedly posted the video of the beheading of American Nicholas Berg in Iraq this past May. A group in Saudi Arabia - totally with no connection to Mr. Zarqawi - kidnapped and later beheaded American Paul Johnson. They, too, posted a video of the horrifying act. And others in Iraq have since done the same.

It's only recently, intelligence officials say, that Zarqawi became adept at building and maintaining a website. In fact, by monitoring the sites, intelligence officials say they've learned a great deal about his operations - how he patterned his organization in Iraq after the Al Qaeda model.

"He first brought in the logistics people, then the fighters," says another senior intelligence official. "Then he brought in the financial people, the trainers, and finally, the media."

Zarqawi's Internet exhortations target two distinct audiences, according to Weimann. He terrorizes Americans by telling them they will be receiving more coffins containing their war dead. And he calls on his Muslim brethren to join the fight.

But there are other websites, Weimann asserts, that have been around a long time and are in some ways more insidious.

He cites Hizbullah, the Syrian-backed party in Lebanon that for years targeted Israeli occupation of Lebanon but has also morphed into a political party, and Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group that also has terror and political wings.

Hizbullah's site, in particular, Weimann says, is extremely sophisticated. Its site is written in both Arabic and English, and even has a special section for the press.

A more disturbing aspect, he says, is that the site entices children - as does Hamas's.

"It suggests they download computer games, war games," Weimann says. "They look like cartoons or comics, but they are preaching sacrifice and are aimed at recruitment. They show children how to shoot Israelis and US soldiers. "

Weimann, who is writing a book about his research, offers recommendations on how to police the websites - some of which would certainly be controversial to proponents of free speech.

• Modify the Patriot Act to allow Internet monitoring similar to the way passengers are screened for airline travel.

• Apply a social responsibility model to Internet Service Providers. Many of the large ones now, he says, have requirements - no violence or pornography. They could monitor for the promotion of terror as well.

• Form an international collaborative of Western countries, the ones that have more stable, advanced Internet services. They could better monitor or prevent these sites from running terror material.

• Offer alternatives. "Don't leave the stage to the bad guys," he says. "We should be presenting alternatives, compete for attention."

• Use the Internet as a stage for peace and conflict management. "Engage them," he says. "There is no talking to Al Qaeda, but others will join a dialog."