How do governments respond to terrorists’ online activities?There is some debate within the counterterrorism community about how to combat terrorist sites. "The knee-jerk reaction is if you see a terrorist site you shut it down," Kohlmann says, but doing so can cause investigators to miss out on a wealth of valuable information. "You can see who's posting what and who's paying for it," says Michael Kern, formerly a senior analyst at the SITE Institute, a Washington-based terrorist-tracking group. For instance, German officials monitoring online chatter issued early warnings prior to the Madrid train bombings in March 2004.
Shutting down a terrorist website is just a temporary disruption. To truly stop a terrorist site, experts say, the webmaster must be stopped. The ability of the U.S. National Security Agency to monitor such individuals inside the United States has been the subject of a heated political and legal debate. The United States has tried to prosecute webmasters who run terrorist websites in the West, but has run into opposition from advocates of free speech. "Sites that tell the terrorist side of the story go right up to the brink of civil liberties," Arquilla says. Sami Omar al-Hussayen, a Saudi Arabian graduate student at the University of Idaho, was charged by U.S. officials with supporting terrorism because he served as a webmaster for several Islamic groups whose sites linked to organizations praising terrorist attacks in Chechnya and Israel. Al-Hussayen was acquitted of all terrorism charges by a federal court in June 2004 under the First Amendment. Two months later, Babar Ahmad, a 31-year-old, British-born son of Pakistani immigrants, was arrested in London under a U.S. warrant.
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