Monday, October 08, 2007

London Internet whiz was vital militant link: FBI

A London student known online as "Irhabi 007" served as a vital communications link in three militant plots that had once appeared unrelated, FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Friday.

Mueller disclosed details of the student's role as a way, he said, of illustrating the importance of the Internet as a communications channel in modern terrorism and the challenges authorities face in tracking down militants.

"The threat exists not only in the mountains of Pakistan, but also in the shadows of the Internet," Mueller told the Council on Foreign Relations in a speech.

The Moroccan-born student's real name was Younes Tsouli and his nickname translates as "Terrorist 007." He was 22 years old when he was arrested in London in October 2005.

Said by prosecutors to have close ties to al Qaeda, Tsouli pleaded guilty in July to inciting terrorism on the Internet and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Tsouli's computer revealed he communicated extensively with two students from Atlanta accused of supporting terrorism by filming potential targets such as the U.S. Capitol and participating in "terrorist training" or "terrorism-related activities" in South Asia, Mueller said.

Tsouli also was in "steady communication" with accused plotters in a case involving a Swedish national and Danish man arrested in Bosnia on suspicion of preparing to bomb targets in Europe, Mueller said.

In addition, he said, Tsouli communicated with members of a suspected militant cell in Canada known as the "Toronto 17" who are accused of planning to attack targets in Canada.

"These individuals seemed to be unrelated, but as we came to find out, they were not," Mueller said.

He said Tsouli was at the "center of this web," facilitating communications and posting thousands of files including manuals for attacks and videotaped beheadings.

"He used his computer skills to build a global virtual network for terrorists and their supporters," Mueller said. Mueller's speech comes as the Bush administration is seeking to permanently expand legal authority to eavesdrop on the communications of foreign terrorism suspects. Many Democrats are seeking restrictions on the authority to protect the rights of innocent Americans.

Mueller said the Tsouli case showed the importance of adapting legislation to match technological change.

"Our capacity, both by way of the expense of keeping up with that curve, as well as the transformation of our laws, just has not kept pace," Mueller said.

"Growth in technology requires us to have a very swift debate and take measures that are necessary to ensure that we can continue to have the kind of investigative capability...that enables us to continue to gather information."

Story Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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