UK internal intelligence service MI5 has been posting various appeals for information on dissident Islamic Web sites over fears that cells of Osama Bin Laden's terrorist network al-Qaeda are active in the UK.
The message, in Arabic, has been posted on two sites at the moment: www.islah.org (a Saudi site) and www.qoqaz.com (a Chechen site), and there are plans to post it on another 10 to 15 sites known to be viewed by radical elements.
Apparently the message reads: "The atrocities that took place in the USA on 11 September led to the deaths of about five thousand people, including a large number of Muslims and people of other faiths. MI5 (The British Security Service) is responsible for countering terrorism to protect all UK citizens of whatever faith or ethnic group. If you think you can help us prevent future outrages calls us in confidence on 020 7930 9000."
The messages have attracted a fair bit of attention, with the Home Office saying the message on the islah site (which also has an English version) getting 800 hits in 24 hours. Only a few gave replies, many of which were derogatory.
According to media reports (we can't find them not understanding a word of Arabic - please feel free to send us the URL if any readers do), one reply said: "I know a nice Anthrax spore which was trained at al-Qaeda camp I could send it to you! Give me $5m and I will help you." Another sent a pic of a nuclear explosion - possibly something to do with the fact that the government has told the press today that Bin Laden does have nuclear materials but not the means by which to use them.
Other replies to this message and the one of the qoqaz.com site thought the message was a joke, but MI5 and the Home Office have confirmed their validity, saying the intention was to get help from the public.
The government claims that the number of calls to the given telephone number have tripled, with half being "useful".
It's an interesting and intelligent approach to gathering information from people that MI5 is unlikely to have contact with otherwise and is just another small indication of how much the Internet has changed society.
The Islah Web site is also a great example of how the Internet can be used to encourage understanding of other people's point of view. If you are genuinely interested in how others view the current situation in Afghanistan and the US' and Bin Laden's role in it all, have a read of the Islah site. It's quite informative and balanced.