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Despite significant concern among policy, law enforcement and intelligence communities in the United States (U.S.) over the possible spread of radical Islamist thought throughout the world as part of a global jihad movement, there has been little investigation into the growing cyber networks in Latin America that promote strong anti-Semitic and anti-U.S. messages. This paper offers an overview of that network, focusing on the structure of Shi’ite websites that promote not only religious conversion but are also supportive of Iran -- a designated State-sponsor of terrorism – its nuclear program. Hezbollah, and the “Bolivarian revolution” led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his allies in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. There is also a smaller group of Sunni Muslim websites, mostly tied to the legacy organizations of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many of the Shi’ite websites are linked to each other consistently portray Israel as a Nazi State, and the United States as an imperialist war monger. The Palestinian issue is frequently juxtaposed with the anti-imperialist struggle that those states supporting Chávez’ Bolivarian revolution claim to wage against the United States.
Some of the Islamist websites claim thousands of new convert, but such claims are difficult to verify. Most of the websites visited touted the conversion of one or two individuals as significant victories and signs of progress, implying that there are few, if any, mass conversions.
While conducting this research, no websites directly claiming to be linked to Hezbollah were found, although there numerous sites hosted by that group that were active until around 2006. Several of the inactive links are supportive of Hezbollah as a political party. No websites linked to al Qaeda were found. Yet a substantial Internet network remains operational. Much of the outreach for Shi’ite Muslims, closely tied to Iran, is sponsored on numerous websites across the region, including El Salvador, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and Bolivia. Numerous Facebook forums for discussion are also hosted around Latin America. These links must be viewed in the context of the rapidly expanding diplomatic, intelligence, political and economic ties of Iran in recent years with the self-proclaimed Bolivarian states.
Given the sparse literature available and the rich vein of un-mined information on the sites cited as well as others that one could find with additional research, the cyber network of Islamist groups remains one of the least understood or studied facets of their presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. It merits significantly more investigation.
Farah, Douglas, "Islamist Cyber Networks in Spanish-Speaking Latin America" (2011). Western Hemisphere Security Analysis Center. 39.
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