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Officials: Militants exploit the Internet, eye recruits

Terrorist groups that have long used the Internet to spread propaganda are increasingly tapping the Web to teach Islamic extremists how to be hackers, recruit techies for cyberwarfare and raise money through online fraud, U.S. officials say.

A senior defense official said intelligence reports indicate extremist groups are seeking computer experts, including those capable of breaching government or other sensitive network systems.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports about the recruiting, said the extent and success of those recruiting efforts are unclear.

But jihadists' interest in hacking is evident in forums across the Internet. Law enforcement officials say terrorists are branching out into Internet fraud to raise money for their operations.

One Internet forum, the Mujahedeen Electronic Net, offers hacking instructions in a number of postings. A lengthy posting markets a weekly course and limits it to regular contributors to the Web site who confirm they are committed to Islam. The author of the offer claims the course will be taught by "experts in the electronic jihad," according to a translation of the posting.

To date, experts say extremists largely have engaged in "sport hacking" -- defacing or taking down Web sites belonging to groups they consider enemies, such as sites featuring Shiite, Jewish or Christian beliefs.

"It's more for propaganda value than for tactical value," said Jarret Brachman, a former West Point researcher who is an expert on jihadist groups.

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