The Internet has become a key teaching tool for Islamist militants who are using it to educate recruits in cyber training camps, crime and security experts said on Wednesday.
Gabriel Weimann, an Internet security expert who teaches at the University of Haifa in Israel and the University of Mainz in Germany, said militants used to do all their training at secret camps in countries like Afghanistan.
Now they meet in cyberspace, Weimann told a conference on Internet security at the headquarters of Germany's Federal Police Office (BKA).
He said that Web sites and chat rooms used by militant Islamist groups like al Qaeda are not only used for the dissemination of propaganda but also for education.
They teach people how to become terrorists on-line, Weimann said. Al Qaeda has launched a practical Web site that shows how to use weapons, how to carry out a kidnapping, how to use fertilizer to make bombs.
Iraqi insurgents are also using publicly available satellite images on the Google Earth Internet portal to locate targets for attacks, Weimann said.
Another disturbing aspect of cyber training is that children can be exposed to militant Islamist ideas on line.
Weimann, who has been studying militants' use of Web sites for nearly a decade, displayed images from a video posted on the Internet which showed children re-enacting the 2004 beheading of U.S. contractor in Iraq Nicholas Berg.
Berg is widely believed to have been beheaded by a group led by the late al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
BKA President Joerg Ziercke said the amount of criminal activity on the Internet was increasing at an alarming rate.
In 2006 (German) police registered some 165,000 criminal cases using the Internet, an increase of around 40 percent compared with the previous year, he said.
Such crimes included the distribution of child pornography, organized crime, economic crime, industrial espionage and even the planning of terrorist acts, Ziercke said.
Also troubling for criminal investigators is the increased use of high-speed wireless (WiFi) internet connections. Criminals and militants can often secretly piggy back on people's wireless connections in apartment buildings or public spaces, giving them increased anonymity, he said.
Ziercke reiterated his call for Germany to permit so-called on-line searches of suspects' computers, the remote surveillance of computers using Trojan horse spyware.
On-line searches are illegal in Germany, where people are sensitive about police surveillance due to the history of Nazi Gestapo secret police and the former East German Stasi.
(Editing by Diana Abdalllah)