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Jihad Jane case suggests rising threat from online 'jihobbyists'

'Jihobbyists' are people drawn to the online theater of violent jihad, becoming increasingly radical as they delve deeper into Web forums. Colleen LaRose, also known as 'Jihad Jane,' is an example of this threat, according to counterterrorism experts.

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“These are fans in the same way other people might follow football teams. But their sport is Al Qaeda,” Mr. Brachman said in a November interview with The Dallas Morning News. The interview followed charges against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim, for the deaths of 13 people in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas.

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But “jihobbyism stops when you cross over that line from thought to action," Brachman said. "[W]hen they start stepping toward making something violent happen – including when you knowingly fund a terrorist organization – that crosses the line from jihobbyism to material support for terrorism.”

Aaron Weisburd of the Society for Internet Research, which monitors online Islamic extremism, said, “The problem is that the term jihobbyist conveys the notion that these guys are not serious ....”

“In fact what these guys are doing,” he wrote on his blog, “is marking time while waiting for the opportunities and associations to appear that will allow them to become real jihadis.”

Brachman acknowledged the issues with using "jihobbyist" too broadly. But, as he recently wrote on his blog, the term is “potentially useful in that it introduces shades of grey into the discussion: it acknowledges that people can support Al Qaeda and wish death upon Americans without ever ‘joining up’ officially.”

But it can be a slippery slope from talking to doing.

As Mr. Kohlmann pointed out, Al Qaeda has taken notice of these people in an effort to nudge them toward real action. As he noted, recently arrested Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn praised the actions of Hasan and called on “every honest and vigilant Muslim in the countries of the Zionist-Crusader alliance in general and America, Britain and Israel in particular to prepare to play his due role in responding to and repelling the aggression of the enemies of Islam.”

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis