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Hitting Where It Hurts: Economic Terrorism

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden

Terrorists are not just looking to kill as many Westerners as possible, they are also looking to paralyze and disrupt Western economies, according to Professor Gabriel Weimann, a researcher at the University of Haifa.

Since the 1990s, Jihadist terrorism has come to dominate the terrorist landscape, with nationalist groups employing terror tactics being squeezed from the limelight. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon along with the Madrid and London bombings, highlighted Islamic terrorism as the most significant threat to Western countries.

Weimann, author of Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, the New Challenges, says that Islamic terrorists are looking to employ economic terrorism to disrupt and destroy Western economist.

“For the Jihadists, the present economic crisis signifies an ideal opportunity and platform to leverage an economic terrorist campaign,” he said in an article on Eurasian Review.

By focusing for a number of years on websites used by Islamic terror organizations, Weimann believes that the focus on economic terrorism began with the 9/11 attacks. He sites a video released by Osama bin Laden following the attacks in which bin Laden says that the attacks damaged the U.S. economy to the tune of $500 billion but only cost $500,000 to carry out.

Bin Laden and other Islamic terrorist leaders have published numerous tracts that highlight their desire to “economic Jihad,” according to Weimann. He cites their calls for boycotts of international corporations by Muslims (there are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in world), killing off key figures in the global economy and attacking firms that “steal” resources from Muslim countries, such as oil firms.

Through his research, Weimann also believes that the operations by Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq are actually meant to drain Western nations economically, rather than attempting to military defeat Western forces. By doing so, Jihadists think that the U.S. economy would be significantly weakened, potentially damaging it long term.

Islamic terrorists are also attempting to gather as much information as possible about Western economies, through monitoring official websites, email or individuals and forums. Weimann also found that members of Jihadist forums are increasingly following finance-related publications and thought leadership of factors influencing Western economies.

“One might think that an Econo-Jihad is less violent, but this is not the case. Jihadist Internet monitoring alongside terrorist activity in the field, is evidence that the economic turn actually influence the terrorists’ targets, which have included oil-drilling infrastructures, tourism, international economic institutions and more,” Weimann said.  “Indeed, Islamic terrorism’s future devices will focus on targets that will yield the most economic damage.”

For the business community, this should raise particular concern. In addition to financial institutions and the energy industry, government contractors are another target that could provide huge dividends if attacked.

With Jihadists looking to understand more and more financial data regarding the U.S. economy, it is vital that organizations and companies are cognizant that any information in the public domain could be read by Islamic terrorists.

While conventional attacks against industries like government contracting would have limited impact, the potential from cyber attack is huge. Most cyber experts, including Jim Lewis of CSIS, do not believe that terrorist organizations presently possess that cyber capability. However, gaining that capability, either through their expertise or by hiring cyber criminals, is not terribly far from the horizon.

The economic impact on an individual company from cyber terrorism could prove disastrous. Such an attack would also significantly damage the industry and the nation as a whole.

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