Fighting Internet Jihad: An Interview with Joseph Shahda
by Jerry Gordon (Nov. 2007)
In the world of special ops in the war against Islamic terrorism, in addition to the traditional battlefield, there is also another group of shadow warriors engaged in fighting the little known “internet Jihad.” One of those engaged in the war against internet Jihad, Joseph Shahda, emerged from those shadows in a series of investigative articles by New York Times reporter, Michael Moss, that appeared on October 15th and 21st. The first article discussed the internet Jihadis themselves, including, most dramatically, 21 year old Samir Khan of North Carolina who ran an internet relay for al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, seemingly with impunity. In the October 21st article, Joseph Shahda emerged from the shadows, replete with photograph, to discuss his private efforts that have successfully taken down dozens of jihadi websites and forums spreading hate and training potential terrorists in techniques that ultimately can be used to kill our troops on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq or civilians in Lebanon, Israel and, even here in the U.S. Through a request made to Mr. Moss of the New York Times we reached out to Mr. Shahda who kindly consented to this interview.
Shahda is uniquely qualified to engage in this private shadow war. Born and raised in a Christian community in
In the course of our discussions, I discovered that Mr. Shahda had received “on the job” training in the internet jihad war by volunteering for the U.S. Army’s
Mr. Shahda has family back in
In this wide ranging interview, we cover such topics as; his personal background, the context of communal sectarian struggles and the Jihad that broke out against the Christian community in Lebanon, the beleaguered Christian community’s imperiled future there, Israel’s past valued roles in the Civil War and First Lebanon war in the 1980’s, the lurking danger of a Hizbollah takeover of Lebanon and conversion to an Iranian-style Islamic republic, his efforts here in the U.S. in his private war against internet Jihad, and his views on what is wrong with the U.S. intelligence community and national law enforcement electronic counter-terrorism programs.
Jerry Gordon: Mr. Shahda, could you tell us about your background? Did you grow up in
Joseph Shahda: I was born in
Gordon: Growing up in
Shahda: I was less than 4 years old when the Lebanese Civil War started in 1975, however based on what I have learned there was a growing tension between the different religious factions in
Gordon: You grew up during the sectarian Civil War in Lebanon and the first Lebanese Israeli War, between 1975 and 2000. What was daily life like and how did you and your family maintain security under threats from Palestinian and radical Muslim militias?
Shahda: I lived in
Gordon: What were your views of the Israelis during the civil war within
Shahda: I strongly believe that the Israeli role during the civil war in
Gordon: The term Jihad has been used by my colleague Brigitte Gabriel who grew up as a child in the southern
Shahda: I had never used this word because it was a very bad word for us as Christians. For us, Jihad means the killing of Christians by Muslims. I grew up in a “Christian right wing family” and I was very aware of the danger presented to us by the Muslim terrorists and their allies whether they were the Palestinians or the Syrians.
Gordon: We have heard horrendous reports of the slaughter during the Lebanon Civil War. To your knowledge how bad was it? Who perpetrated it? And why?
Shahda: Yes, there were many massacres that occurred in
Gordon: Given the rise of Hizballah among the Shia in
Shahda: There is no doubt that today the Hizballah terrorist group constitutes by far the greatest danger to
Gordon: Why has there been a cleavage in the Christian community in Lebanon between Lebanese Patriots opposed to Syrian hegemony and those, who, in the words of Lebanese-American Walid Phares have become “Christian mercenaries for Iran” and Syria?
Shahda: Unfortunately some “Christian leaders” in their obsession for political gains think that allying themselves with Hizballah terrorists and indirectly with
Gordon: Do you think there is a future for the Christian community in
Shahda: The Lebanese Christians have been steadily leaving
Gordon: Turning to your recent involvements, could you explain your motivations for becoming a veritable one man Internet counterterrorism attack force?
Shahda: I am not fighting the war on terror with our brave troops in
Gordon: What did you see as a threat that prompted your involvement? Was it the lack of US government efforts to close down clearly Jihad-linked websites? Any other factors?
Shahda: The threat from the terrorist websites and forums is very grave to the National Security of the
Gordon: As a Lebanese Christian, you have to be multi-lingual. How many languages and Arabic dialects do you read, write and speak?
Shahda: I speak the Lebanese dialect; however, I can definitely understand 95% to 100% of many other Arab dialects. Arabs rarely write in the local spoken dialect of a country, rather they write in the “formal Arabic” which is understood by all Arab speakers including non-Arabs who learn Arabic.
Gordon: Given your professional training as an engineer and your language skills, in the wake of 9/11 you had offered your services to some of our national security agencies. What were their responses to your offers? Why is it, do you think, that they didn’t take up your offer?
Shahda: I did offer my services several times to some US intelligence and law enforcement agencies as a free-of-charge volunteer to help in Arabic translation or as an Arabic language analyst, however I did not get any reply. Perhaps this is because I am not yet a
Gordon: In your view can we trust the translations done by Arab Muslims working for our national security agencies both domestically and abroad? If not, why not?
Shahda: Let me say that the intelligence and law enforcement community need to be very careful when hiring Arab Muslims as translators, in particular first generation Arab Muslim citizens of the
Gordon: How and when did Mike Moss of the New York Times find and interview you for his article on the Internet Jihadis?
Shahda: On July 19 and 20, 2007 I published two article on Free Republic.com calling fellow members on the forum to start a war against the terrorists on the internet and asking them to help me shut down the terrorist websites and forums (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1868512/posts; http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1869194/posts). Mr. Moss from the New York Times contacted a
Gordon: You cited in the interview with Mike Moss, why you believe that our government’s joint task force on counter terrorism isn’t taking appropriate actions to shut down Internet Jihad sites, like the one operated by Samir Khan in
Shahda: As I indicated earlier some in the government believe that they can get actionable intelligence from these terrorist forums and websites and I strongly believe that they are wrong. There is little actionable intelligence to get from these sites and the great damage done by these websites/forums in term of recruiting more terrorists and teach them to kill far outweigh any intelligence value these websites/forums can provide. For instance in Mr. Moss’s article on October 21, 2007 the official from the government responded that the reason they kept terrorist Samir Khan’s website up is because they are learning from it. They gave as an example of “the learning” that terrorists consider Abdallah Azzam, the mentor of Bin Laden, who died in 1989, as more influential than Bin Laden. If I may ask, what type of actionable intelligence is that?! Also the officials in this case are comparing apples to oranges since Azzam and others like Yousof Al A’airi and Abu Musab AL Suri have always been considered by the Islamist terrorists as the “Philosophers of Jihad”. Whereas Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and the dead Zarqawi are considered the “Leaders of Jihad”. With absolute certainty I can tell you that Azzam is not more influential than Bin Laden among the terrorists and it is not even close. So based on the above does this really justify keeping up a terrorist website operated by an Islamic terrorist living in
Gordon: How long have you been doing your own Internet counterterrorism work? Did your professional engineering training equip you to undertake this electronic counter terrorism effort? How much of your leisure time does it consume? When did you get started? What has been your track record?
Shahda: I have been doing internet counterterrorism work since late last year. I think that my engineering training helped me to navigate more easily on the internet to find the terrorists websites and forums. These are not that difficult to find after all, just simple key words used by the terrorists can lead to many terrorist websites and forums. I think my native Arabic language is what is helping the most in following up and understanding what is going on in these terrorist websites/forums. I usually do this type of work at night time for four to five hours each night. Since I started the public campaign to shut down terrorist websites and forums, I was able to shut down over 40 terrorist websites and forums multiple times. The top four, such as “Al Ekhlass”, “Al Hesbah” and “W-N-N (World News Network)”, “GIMF” (Global Islamic Media Front) may come back up but I go after them again and ask the new Internet Service Providers (ISP) to shut them down again. The Islamic terrorists have already released some articles stating that they have been badly hurt by the efforts to shut them down.
Gordon: When you shut down a website, do they start up again under a different domain name and internet service provider, and typically does that mean going offshore? How can we reach those new locations and stop them?
Shahda: Yes, they do startup again or at least try to with different ISPs. However, as I mentioned earlier I located their new ISP and ask them to shut down the terrorist website or forum that they were hosting. Surprisingly many of these websites come back up again using American ISP’s, in fact the largest two terrorist forums on the internet “Al Ekhlass” and “ Al Hesbah” have been hosted for the last three weeks by an ISP in Tampa Florida (Hivelocity/NOC4Hosts Inc) which has refused to shut them down despite the many e-mails I have sent them. We can reach these ISPs by e-mailing or calling them, and the more people who e-mail and call them the faster they will shut them down.
Gordon: You have read the traffic on these Jihad websites or forums. How hate-filled are they and can you given some specific examples?
Shahda: The intensity of hate spread on these websites is something that many people in the West do not think possible. It is diabolical hate to say the least. You have to see the incredible excitement in their writings when they link terrorist videos showing the slaughtering of innocent people, they spam the text with “Allah Akbar” (Allah is great) to express their joy and pleasure in seeing the evil and barbaric scenes. In one particular terrorist “voice chat” room, you can hear the euphoria of the speakers when talking about car bombs that are killing civilians. Just in the last 2 days one prominent terrorist forum has been putting up one posting after another regarding the “California Fires” and the members expressing all type of joy for the destruction that the fires are causing.
Gordon: Why do you think our government doesn’t understand the danger of these Jihadi internet sites? Is it lack of understanding of radical Islamist doctrines, lack of necessary language skills, political correctness, fear and intimidation of legal actions, and/or physical threats? Which of these would you consider as leading factors and why?
Shahda: I think that most in the government law enforcement and intelligence agencies understand the extreme danger posed by the Islamic terrorist websites, however the current prevailing opinion on how to deal with it is wrong as I explained earlier. Also the factor of “political correctness” plays a role in terms of not shutting down some of these websites with the unrealistic excuse that they fall under the First Amendment. It is not freedom of speech to teach people how to kill Americans and others, it is terrorism. Therefore the government law enforcement agencies are facing legal obstacles, internal regulations, and bureaucracy to shut down the terrorist websites. In addition to that, the current prevailing opinion is to keep the websites up for their so called intelligence value, but unfortunately this prevailing opinion is very wrong.
Gordon: What would you suggest that our government do to recruit, train, and implement a more effective program of electronic counter terrorism specialists based on your experience?
Shahda: I think our government must decide once and for all that the vast majority of these terrorist websites and forums, if not all, must be shut down because the damage done by them on an hourly basis far outweighs any intelligence value we can get from them. The electronic counter terrorism specialists should be chasing the re-built websites/forums and shutting them down again.
Gordon: How long do you intend to keep up your current efforts, and what kind of support do you require to continue or expand it?
Shahda: I intend to keep up my efforts as long as it takes. I need more people to join me, as long as those people believe it is our duty to help this great nation during a time of war to defend our freedom and our way of life against an Islamic terrorist enemy who wants to destroy the world as we know it and plunge us into a new Dark Age.
Gordon: Did you think Moss in the New York Times treated the subject of Jihadi internet warfare and both yours and the government’s involvement fairly? Did you have any follow up reactions and comments about the article and specifically your own efforts?
Shahda: Yes, Mr. Moss was very fair in his article he just represented the facts and that is what a true journalist does. I did get some follow up from a British newspaper regarding this subject, and of course this article was posted on multiple internet forums, and I would not be surprised at all if the terrorist forums will post it soon. In fact I want to show the terrorist that I am not afraid to show my face unlike those cowards who claim all types of “Manhood” when in reality they are a bunch of evil cowards. The terrorist forums were already aware of my efforts to shut them down and they posted on their forums and websites my Free Republic articles against them, so they have known me for a while by the nickname “jveritas”. They now know exactly who I am and how I look.
Gordon: Any other observations you’d like to share with us about the internet Jihad that we should be concerned about for the future?
Shahda: Yes, I am concerned that the terrorist will start a massive internet campaign to hack tens of thousands of websites including business and government websites. They have done this in the past; however they may be doing it in the future on a massive scale that can cause a lot of damage and chaos. In fact earlier this month one member on a prominent terrorist forum began a campaign and asked his fellow terrorist to help him attack non-terrorist websites by either hacking them or by planting terrorist materials and propaganda.
Gordon: Thank you Joseph Shahda for this remarkable interview. You are a most courageous and fearless fighter on the front lines of the battle against internet Jihad. Doubtless we will read more about your exploits and accomplishments. Perhaps, even our government will take notice and become a more effective ally in this important battle to shut down internet hate sites and forums helping to crush the murderous objectives of Islamist terrorists around the globe. All the best in this important endeavor.
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