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Boston bombers: A new trend of jihadism via Internet?

Text by Stéphanie TROUILLARD

Latest update : 2013-05-30

The Tsarnaev brothers, suspects in the Boston bombings, seem to have become radicalised over the Internet. FRANCE 24 interviewed Dominique Thomas, a Swiss researcher specialised in global terrorism and author of "Londonistan: The Voice of Jihad".

F24: Do the two suspects in the Boston attacks seem to match the profile of a new generation of jihadists who became radicalised on the Internet?

DT: For now, that’s the most likely hypothesis, even if we’re still missing a lot of information about their personal journeys and histories. It’s completely possible that these two young men absorbed jihadist ideology on the Internet. They may have read online publications in their native Chechen language, but also in English. There are a lot of documents available these days on the Internet, like the publication Inspire [the online magazine of the Yemen-based branch of al-Qaeda, Aqap]. You can learn, most notably, how to build a bomb. About a month ago, Aqap also published a sort of jihadist manuel to encourage individuals to become jihadists on their own.

F24: What are some of the new factors that could drive someone to become a terrorist?

DT: The Internet is enough to radicalise a certain number of young people, but they need to be receptive to the political discourse being expressed in order to take action. Being exposed to certain things on the Internet is not enough. There is surely something in the person’s past or history that explains why they take action. They must feel some sense of injustice about something going on – the drone campaigns carried out by the US in Yemen and Afghanistan, for example. As a response to that, jihadists are capable of striking by carrying out terrorist attacks.

F24: Were the two suspects in the Boston attacks likely part of a network or did they act alone?

DT: For the moment, we don’t know. If they had any contacts abroad, the planning of the attacks would have had to have been very elaborate. They couldn’t have planned everything via Internet; they must have had a contact on American soil or during a trip abroad. But today, we are not very familiar with jihadist connections between the Caucasus and al-Qaeda. Those extremists are generally more focused on Russia than the US. On the other hand, if these two young men did in fact plan the attacks exclusively via Internet, it would be a very unique and rare form of jihad.

F24: Is there a reason to be worried about widespread radicalisation via Internet?

DT: Online jihadists spreading propaganda can promote the attacks, so for them these attacks were a coup. The Boston Marathon attacks were pretty brazen. Online jihadist leaders know they have numerous followers on the web, but few people end up actually following through on their recommendations [to carry out attacks]. But even if ten new people end up taking action and plotting terrorist attacks, for them it’s a victory.

F24: What about the theory that these young people became terrorists because they felt alienated and uprooted?

DT: It’s still too early to know what led them to do it. One of these two young men was leading what appeared to be a normal college student's life, and there were no indications that they had been exposed to or interested in jihad. For the moment, I think we can compare them to the Iraqi who carried out terrorist attacks in Stockholm [in December 2010, when two explosions killed Iraqi-born Swedish citizen Taimour Abdulwahab, the suspected bomber, and injured two others]. He wasn’t in any socio-economic distress, but he was experiencing feelings of alienation. He had frequented radical groups in Great Britain and Sweden. He was an isolated individual, but had contacts in jihadist circles. I think the two men from Boston seem to fit this profile.

 


 

Date created : 2013-04-20

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