For some time yet, Tsouli will remain a distant figure, understood only dimly through the online identity he may have created. His trial has not begun, and British law strictly limits disclosures about ongoing cases. Still, whether Irhabi turns out to have been an individual—Tsouli—or a composite is less important than the legacy he has left behind.
Months after Tsouli’s arrest, a member of an English- language jihadi chat room wrote, “I was wondering if anyone knows how to find vulnerabilities on servers or hacking in general (erhabis hacking tips), can they please post in here.” He was directed to muslimhackers.com and told to send a private e-mail to the administrator for a password. Muslimhackers offers tips on how to target members of its hit list, which includes Internet Haganah and a number of sites run by Shiites. Since that time, Irhabi’s guide to the Internet has also been making the rounds in a number of popular forums; titled “The encyclopedia on hacking the crusaders’ and zionists’ Web sites, drafted by Irhabi 007,” it includes file-transfer programs and the infamous password cracker “John the Ripper,” along with its own hit list.
Online jihadists can now do serious damage—and they’re learning to stay under the radar. In the early days, before the Iraq War, the “online global jihad” amounted to a collection of chat rooms where angry members could let off steam and experiment with threatening graphics. The sites welcomed visitors, offering a painless process of registration; today they present tougher barriers to entry and place a greater emphasis on remaining anonymous and secure. There are now scores of sites, and the competition among them to become the one to watch is fierce. These sites constitute a sophisticated media machine with which terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi can shape their image, test their message, and broadcast their news swiftly and securely, often in the form of slick videos. Forum members thrive on the brutal rhetoric and are encouraged to participate in a way that enhances their sense of belonging and importance. That participation poses a threat deeper than propaganda, because it helps terrorists find and train recruits willing to strap themselves into suicide vests and blow themselves up.
The arrest of Younis Tsouli, unfortunately, represents not the end of the story but only its beginning. “Irhabi was the right man at the right time when the terrorists were in need of a robust online network,” Katz said. “Today, that network is established. What Irhabi taught the jihadi community is out there.” What Irhabi helped create—a template for his own replication online—has opened a door to a struggle that is likely to be with us for a long time. Commenting recently on that struggle, a member of a jihadi forum that Irhabi had frequented captured an essential, if figurative, truth. “By the way brothers,” he announced, “Irhabi 007 is free.”