Four years after it was forced to shut down its website in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Lashkar-e-Taiba's parent organisation has re-established its presence in cyberspace.
In a video address posted online when the website went online on Wednesday, Jama'at-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed explained the decision. “The media is a two-edged sword,” said Mr Saeed, the alleged architect of the 26/11 attacks, in the 5.53 minute video. “Rather than being overwhelmed by the media, we wish to use it in a positive way and, god willing, use it to spread our message of proselytisation and jihad.”
Mr. Saeed's message is studied in its moderation. The website says the Jamaat-ud-Dawa “nullifies [sic., throughout] all kinds of violent ideologies that resort to use of force against innocents souls anywhere in the world.” Instead, it says, the organisation “struggles for the restoration of Pakistan's true Ideology of Islam that should stand as an example for Muslim world.”
Interestingly, it makes no mention of terrorism-related charges that recently led the United States to announce a $1 million reward for information leading to Mr. Saeed's arrest. Instead, it notes that Mr. Saeed toured the United States in 1994, lecturing on “Islamic Perspectives of Raising Children.”
The internet registry service www.who.is does not hold ownership details for the Jama'at website, but records it is hosted by the Karachi-based internet service Magsnet. Magsnet's website says it is a marketing and web development firm whose clients include Nokia, Telenor, Standard Chartered and Barclays.
Experts said the moderate language did not necessarily reflect a change in Jama'at thinking. “The content itself is not significant,” said Steven Tankel, a scholar who has written extensively on the group, “because the 1.0 version of Jama'at website was similarly measured when it came to anything linked to militancy.” However, he said, it was “significant that Pakistan's security establishment has allowed the group to re-launch its website.”
Prior to its proscription after the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan crisis, the internet had enabled the Markaz Dawa wal'Irshad — an earlier name for the Jama'at —to emerge as a magnet for western jihadists. Though several jihadists simply showed up at the Markaz offices for training, Dr. Tankel has written, “for those looking to plan a bit more in advance, web site provided contact information.”
Following the United States' invasion of Iraq, the website called fighters to join the jihad there. “The Americans are dishonouring our mothers and sisters,” it stated. “Therefore, jihad against America has now become mandatory.”
The website was shut down in 2002 — but soon resumed operations, under the new name.
Earlier this year, as first reported by The Hindu, the Jama'at launched a Facebook page which contained considerable violent propaganda. In a poster for a March 23, 2010 rally, slogans were superimposed over an image of burning Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai: “free Kashmir, Pakistan's lifeline, from the enemy”; “freedom of the Muslims of Gujarat, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and the rest of India”; “save Pakistan's parched rivers.”
Jama'at leaders have used similar language in several recent public rallies. Middle-East Media Research Institute analyst Tufail Ahmad has recorded, for example, that Mr. Saeed called in one speech last year for a war “against the Hindu so that the greatness of the jihad can be evident.”