By Noah Shachtman EmailOctober 15, 2008 | 4:44:00 PM
A few weeks ago, Western intelligence officials discovered that the Palestinian jihadist group Hamas had set up a video-sharing site — to spread propaganda and to train would-be terrorists. Now, that radical Islamic answer to YouTube is offline. And jihadists are blaming the FBI for the takedown.
AqsaTube mimicked the mainstream video site in almost every way. Users could watch clips, and upload their own. Even the two logos were basically the same. “The Hamas site, however, is devoted entirely to propaganda and incitement,” explained Israel’s Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, or ITIC. Material included demonstrations of how to detonate explosives and fire weapons, speeches from Hamas and al-Qaeda leaderships, episodes from a popular Syrian TV drama and clips of kids in military uniforms — while a musician sings, “death is fame and victory.”
As we’ve noted before, today’s jihadists don’t just use the internet occasionally. “They don’t exist without the web,” says Naval Postgraduate School professor John Arquilla. Everything from recruiting to training to propaganda is handled online.
AqsaTube also included Google ads, and links to al-Aqsa TV, Hamas’ television channel. However, Samir Abu Mahsen, head of production of al-Aqsa TV, tells the BBC that the video site “does not belong to al-Aqsa TV.”
This is the second time in a little more than a month that an extremist video distribution network has been taken offline. The al-Ekhlaas network of sites had long been a primary distributor of videos from al-Sahab, al-Qaida’s propaganda arm. Then, on Sept. 11, al-Ekhlaas.net was suddenly re-registered. All of its content vanished.
As in the case of the al-Ekhlaas takedown, militant forums blamed Western intelligence agencies for the unplugging of AqsaTube. But it appears a little sunlight may have done the trick, instead.
AqsaTube’s internet service provider was the French firm OVH. The company “initially denied hosting AqsaTube, according to the BBC, “but later confirmed that the website had been hosted by them and had now been taken offline.”