Armed rebel groups in Somalia are using the Internet for fundraising and recruitment, and they achieve better results through the Web than they do on the ground, a United Nations report said.
The report by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia also highlighted how the rebels use the Internet to spread information about making bombs and religious rulings.
It cited a three-day, live fundraiser in May last year and another online forum in March 2009 attended by senior members of al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, the two main rebel groups fighting the Western-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam have regularly conducted joint forums, achieving a greater degree of cooperation in cyberspace than they do on the ground, the report said.
Al Shabaab launched a two-week online fundraiser for its fighters in August 2009, which drew senior regional rebel leaders and hundreds of participants in the Somali diaspora, the report said.
Forum participants made pledges totaling more than $40,000 during the event at which the leaders told of the hardships facing fighters and their families.
The Internet continues to play an important role in propaganda, recruiting and fund-raising by Somali armed groups, the monitoring group said.
The most active al Shabaab online outlet is www.alqimmah.net, established in September 2007 and registered in Sweden.
The site is used to disseminate and produce the rebel group's information material, making it an integral part of al Shabaab's propaganda.
Last August it posted a 47-page religious ruling, or fatwa, against the Djibouti peace process, which is aimed at putting together an inclusive Somali government.
The fatwa has provided Somali rebel groups with religious justification for waging war against the government of Somalia.
Alqimmah.net has also posted a link to a book entitled The Science of Explosions and Explosives.
The intention of the posting was apparently to make available to Shabaab supporters and sympathizers knowledge pertinent to bomb-making, the report said.
Al Shabaab is also using Internet forums to highlight its cooperation with foreign fighters who have joined its cause.
In one example, the proceedings of a ceremony to thank foreign fighters, and reportedly, to celebrate the marriage of some 50 of them to Somali women as a way to integrate them into Somali society, were relayed to participants of an online forum.
The message was unmistakably to assure potential foreign volunteers that they could expect a similarly warm welcome if they joined the cause, the report said.
Other sites used to disseminate materials by al Shabaab cited in the report include somalimemo.com and ansarnet.info, while Hizbul Islam has links with jabiso.net, somalimirror.com and cadaalada.com and halgan.net.
Despite its internal turmoil Somalia boasts some of the fastest Internet connections in Africa.
By 2005, when most of Africa was still putting this infrastructure in place, Somalia, with the help of a huge diaspora population, developed the fastest and cheapest internet and telecommunications, said Rashid Abdi, Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group.
Abdi described al Shabaab's use of the Internet as an increasingly common trend of cyber-jihadism, which is difficult to control.
He cautioned against restricting Internet use in Somalia. I would not recommend cutting off Somalia's Internet. It is just a catalyst not a root cause, he said, adding that it could also become a vehicle to help solve the conflict.