Fighting Internet Jihad: An Interview with Joseph Shahda

by Jerry Gordon (Nov. 2007)

Background

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 Lebanon, he is multi-lingual and is conversant in several Arabic dialects. He was educated in both Lebanon and the U.S. in science and engineering.  Shahda considers his efforts to eliminate Jihadi terrorist websites as ‘payback’ in gratitude to America, the country that gave him the opportunity to become an accomplished immigrant and professional engineer. His technical training, along with his linguistic and cultural analysis skills, allows him to surf the ‘net on the prowl to strike at Jihadi internet websites and forums and bring them down.  He does this without government or private support, working several hours each evening.

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 Iraq project where he translated documents captured on the battlefield and posted them on a public internet website. Mr. Shahda had contacted U.S. Intelligence and national law enforcement agencies several times to volunteer his considerable linguistic and analytic skills for similar translation projects. Like thousands of others, principally non-Muslims, conversant in so-called ‘strategic languages’, like Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Pashto and Urdu, he was rebuffed, a matter I have written about in World Net Daily, a billion dollar translator scandal that dogs the U.S. intelligence and national law enforcement communities, mainly because of a delusional political correctness. 

Mr. Shahda has family back in Lebanon. Unfortunately, he can’t return there. Instead, his parents travel to visit both him and a brother who lives in Canada. The reason?  Hizbollah has him on their watch list and will attempt to kidnap him should he return there.  Fearless, Shahda is steadfast and perseveres in the battle against internet Jihad. 

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 Lebanon? Were you educated there or here in the US, and when and under what circumstances did you come here?

Joseph Shahda: I was born in Lebanon in 1971 and lived there for 22 years. I received my Bachelor of Science in Physics from the American University of Beirut and then I came to the US in January 1994 to get my Master of Science in Engineering which I received from Northeastern University in Boston Mass. After my graduation I was hired by a US company in Massachusetts and now I am a Legal Permanent Resident of the US waiting to get US Citizenship.

Gordon: Growing up in Lebanon prior to the onset of the Civil War in the 1970’s, what were relations like between various communal groups: Sunni and Shia Muslims, Druze, Christian Maronites, Orthodox Christians and others?

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 Lebanon prior to the start of the war. The Lebanese Muslims were simply not accepting that the political and economical power in Lebanon had resided in the hands of Christians since the founding of Lebanon as a state back in 1945. They wanted to change this and that lead to war.

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 Lebanon through the whole duration of the civil war from 1975-1990. The Northern Christian town where I grew up was invaded by Muslim and Palestinian terrorists in July 1976 and they massacred dozens of innocent men, women and children. Fortunately our family went to a safer place in the Christian mountains before the attack. In the remaining years of the civil war we went through many cycles of violence that made life very bad but we tried to make the best of it despite all.

Gordon: What were your views of the Israelis during the civil war within Lebanon and the first Lebanese Israeli war?  Did they assist beleaguered Christian enclaves and towns?  What assistance did the Israelis render to Christian groups and militias?

Shahda: I strongly believe that the Israeli role during the civil war in Lebanon was very noble and it consisted of getting rid of the Palestinian terrorists who destroyed the country and also Israel wanted to help the Christians in Lebanon have the upper hand. The Israel Defense Forces got rid of the Palestinians during the 1982 invasion and worked with the Christian leaders to regain the political and military initiative.  However, and very unfortunately, the Lebanese Christian politicians were not forthright with the Israelis and they played a very stupid game of politics.  This lead Israel to leave most of Lebanon with a lot of distrust in many Christian politicians.  The Christians, left alone without any powerful ally, paid a heavy price.

Gordon: The term Jihad has been used by my colleague Brigitte Gabriel who grew up as a child in the southern Lebanon town of Marjaoun.  Was her experience similar to your experience, as well? 

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 Lebanon in both sides but there is no doubt that all these massacres were caused first by Muslim terrorists and their foreign allies (Palestinians, Syrians). I mentioned earlier about a massacre committed against my Christian town by Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians; also many other massacres occurred against the Christians in different part of Lebanon. The Lebanese Christian militias answered the massacres by similar acts of violence so the other side would learn that if you kill our civilians we kill yours. This is the very unfortunate part of a civil war, the Christians committed acts of violence that contradict the teaching of Christianity but they had to do so in order to survive.  The Muslims committed many acts of violence based on the teaching and history of Islam, and there lies the big difference.

 Gordon: Given the rise of Hizballah among the Shia in Lebanon, how dangerous is this terror group to the survival of the power-sharing system in Lebanon and the continued status of the Christian community?

Shahda: There is no doubt that today the Hizballah terrorist group constitutes by far the greatest danger to Lebanon. This terrorist group wants to establish an Islamic Republic in Lebanon similar to that of Iran. Hizballah was created in 1981 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard under an edict by the late terrorist leader Ayatollah Khomeini.  Since then Hizballah has acted as the arm of destruction and terror for Iran as well as their ally Syria. Hizballah terrorists just last year conducted acts of aggression against Israel which plunged all of Lebanon into a destructive war and the losses were immense. After their defeat in the war that they camouflaged as a delusional victory against Israel, trumpeted by the Western media, Hizballah planned to topple the Lebanese government and establish a puppet government that would be a satellite for both the terrorist regimes in Syria and Iran. The Hizballah terrorist group poses a grave danger to the Lebanese Christians and all other Lebanese who do not abide by their seventh century Islamic terrorist ideology.

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 Iran and Syria will bring them political fortunes. They are very wrong.  They will not gain any political power and they are now losing a lot of popular support, because in the end the Lebanese Christians fully understand that they simply cannot accept the Islamic terrorist ideology of Hizballah.  It is 180 degree opposite to everything they believe in.

 Gordon: Do you think there is a future for the Christian community in Lebanon or do you expect that most will immigrate?

Shahda: The Lebanese Christians have been steadily leaving Lebanon for the West since the start of the civil war. In the next 20 years Lebanese Christians will remain a very powerful and influential community in Lebanon. However, eventually their power will decline as they become fewer in numbers. The Lebanese Muslims multiply at a much higher rate than Lebanese Christians as well.

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 Iraq and Afghanistan so the least I can do is to fight the terrorists on the internet.

 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 US and the security of the world. Terrorist leaders including Bin Laden have stated that “media Jihad” is as important as “battlefield Jihad” and in this case the most common and powerful medium for the terrorists “media Jihad” is the internet. These terrorist websites/forums are created by the Islamic terrorists first and foremost to recruit terrorists, spread the terrorist ideology of hate and violence, and teach the new terrorists how to conduct violent terrorist acts. These acts include  building car bombs, suicide explosives belts, building IED’s, homemade bombs, how to cut the throat of people, sniping, kidnapping, etc…. In every passing minute that these terrorist websites/forums are still up more people are recruited for Jihad and taught how to conduct terrorist actions.  This is simply not acceptable during a time of war. The US government, in my opinion, is divided on the issues of what to do about the terrorist websites. There are some people in the intelligence community who believe there is an intelligence value to gain from keeping these websites up. Sadly, they could not be more wrong. Getting real actionable intelligence from a terrorist website or forum is extremely difficult and requires a lot of time and a lot of luck and in many cases the small amounts of available actionable intelligence would only be noticed after the act is done. While someone is trying for many months or years to catch a terrorist on the internet or trying to stumble onto actionable intelligence, these terrorist websites and forums are doing what they are meant to do and that is recruiting more people for terrorism and teaching them how to kill and destroy. However, we may be getting some good news soon. The October 2007 Homeland Security report released by the White House indicated that they are going to go after the terrorist websites and forums and said “….we will seek to deny the Internet to our terrorist enemies as an effective safe haven for their recruitment, fund-raising, training, and operational planning.

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 US citizen and as a Legal Permanent Resident may not be acceptable even on a volunteer basis. This is yet another unnecessary restriction during a time of war. The government is suffering from lack of Arabic translators and linguists; therefore they should take offers to help from qualified people under serious consideration.

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 US.  I am not saying that all of them constitute a potential danger, not even a majority of them, but it will take only a few to cause incredible damage to the National Security of the US. In this war we must put “Political Correctness” aside and first and foremost protect the nation from the danger of Islamic terrorism. There are some Arab Muslim US citizens, whose loyalty is for their “Muslim Brethren” fighting the “Infidels” and they will infiltrate our government as Arabic translators or otherwise to cause us damage. When it comes to hiring Arab Muslims abroad the danger that I just mentioned will be many times higher, thus much more care should be taken in these cases.

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 Free Republic media person and asked if I would contact him. I did so and we had four phone interviews before the article was published in October 21, 2007 in the New York Times. I would like to add that Mr. Moss wrote an excellent and fair article about this issue.

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 North Carolina as a relay station for al Qaeda. What is it that we are doing wrong? How do you think we should correct it?

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 North Carolina?! Something is very wrong with this picture. The solution will be simple, the vast majority, if not all, the terrorist websites and forums must be shut down for all the reasons I mentioned earlier.

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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