Murphy's Law: Terrorists Thwarted By A Tweet


September 12, 2010: A Japanese journalist, Kosuke Tsuneoka, held captive by Islamic radicals in northern Afghanistan, managed to get himself rescued by using a cell phone and twitter to let his family know where he was being held. This happened because one of his captors had bought a cell phone that supported Internet access, and asked Tsuneoka to set it up so that the Afghan gunman could easily access al Jazeera and some other sites. Tsuneoka suggested they check out twitter, and while showing them how twitter worked, he got two tweets out to his family. Several days later, Afghan police persuaded the kidnappers to let Tsuneoka go, or else.

Turns out the guys holding him were Islamic radicals in name only (a common situation) and were mainly trying to negotiate some ransom for Tsuneoka's release. But Tsuneoka was a freelancer and was not attached to any major news organization that could pay to get him freed. The Japanese government doesn't pay ransom in these situations and Tsuneoka thought he might be killed after five months of captivity. The Afghan government would not say how they arranged Tsuneoka's release, probably because the government does have contacts with most tribes, warlords and such, and was able to apply pressure on the right person once they knew where Tsuneoka was.

This another example of the uneasy relationship the Taliban, and other Islamic radical groups, have with the cell phone and the Internet. Much modern technology is considered un-Islamic by Islamic radicals. Cell phones, in particular, are considered outright dangerous. This despite the fact that the phones are very useful to terrorists. Not just for setting off bombs, but also for quick and reliable communication. For the younger Islamic radicals, there is a fascination with this technology, and what it can do. But terrorist group leaders, or at least their technical advisors, are also aware that cell phone use can be tracked, especially by the Americans and all their electronic warfare aircraft. These were used heavily in Iraq, but now have all moved to Afghanistan. In addition, there's the fact that most Afghans don't like the Taliban or al Qaeda, and will use their cell phones to discreetly phone in information about terrorist sightings (and sometimes collect a cash reward for doing so). The terrorists are trying to cope.

An example of this has been demands by Taliban around Kandahar, over the last two years, that cell phone companies shut down service at night. If not, the Taliban threatened to attack cell phone towers. The Taliban believed the Americans use cell phone signals to track the Taliban at night, and guide smart bombs to where the Taliban are sleeping. Few in the Taliban seem to understand how ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) works, so these threats are simply a desperate reaction to many night time smart bomb attacks, or police raids, on houses where Taliban were spending the night. The Taliban themselves make heavy use of cell phones, at least in the few areas (mainly the large cities, like Kandahar) where there is cell phone service. The Taliban see such "Yankee Magic" as another sign that the Americans are in league with the devil.

The Taliban campaign against cell phones was largely abandoned, partly because it made them even more unpopular, and partly because so many of their own gunmen use the cell phones, and get angry if they can't get service.





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