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Cyber warriors trawl web for extremist threats

Last Updated: Monday, August 17, 2009 - 10:12

Singapore: Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin spends several hours a day trawling the Internet, but she is not your typical young surfer, descending into a world of bomb-making, militancy and extremism.
From her computer, she enters a world where young Muslims openly volunteer to fight against US-led coalition troops in Afghanistan or learn how to make explosives out of everyday materials.

The 24-year-old Singaporean research analyst is constantly on the lookout for attack manuals, video clips of Islamist militants in training and fiery extremist chatter that could hint at an imminent assault somewhere.

It is a place where al Qaeda terror network chief Osama bin Laden is venerated and the three Indonesian men executed for their role in the Bali bombings of 2002 are held up as poster boys for would-be recruits.

"This whole thing is worrying," she said in an interview, referring to a growing trend of individuals imbibing radical ideas online.

Nur Azlin is one of five research analysts at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies who monitor extremist websites daily to get a sense of an emerging battleground in the fight against terrorism.

All of them happen to be women and their collective skills include knowledge of Arabic, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia -- and geopolitical issues.

"After you sit down, think about it and do a trend analysis, you say `Oh my God! This is really happening,`" said Nur Azlin, who works for the school`s International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

"You can see the radicalisation process unfold online."

There are an estimated 5,500-6,000 websites worldwide peddling extremist ideas, according to the researchers, who work from a spartan office in a suburban university campus.

Nur Azlin is tasked to monitor and analyse websites in Southeast Asia, a region that hosts notorious organisations such as the Jemaah Islamiyah movement and the Abu Sayyaf group operating in the southern Philippines.

She estimates that there are around 192 extremist websites in the region, many of them individual blogs which have mushroomed since early 2008 when Internet blogging became popular.

Singapore, a staunch US ally and international finance centre, considers itself a prime target for terrorist attacks like last month`s deadly hotel bombings in Jakarta aimed at symbols of Western influence.

Bureau Report

First Published: Monday, August 17, 2009 - 10:12
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