Extremist websites must be watched

Few can understand the mind of the Reem Island killer. But we can be vigilant online

Alaa Al Hashemi, 30, was found guilty of murdering Ibolya Ryan in a toilet stall in Boutik Mall. Courtesy Security Media
Powered by automated translation

We may never know exactly what went through the mind of Alaa Al Hashemi before she devastated the life of one family and caused many more to fear for their safety. By brutally killing an innocent woman, Al Hashemi also intended to shake the stability of the UAE. On Monday, she was rightly sentenced for her crimes.

The story of how Al Hashemi came to commit murder in December is, unfortunately, too common in many parts of the world. Thankfully, it is rare in the UAE. Radicalised by someone close to her, she started down a path to extremism that was fed by online videos. It was online that Al Hashemi learnt how to construct a bomb (though she did rather a poor job and it did not go off).

In seeking answers about how to prevent people from becoming radicalised, it is important that we recognise the role of the person’s psychological state. Al Hashemi was a “lone wolf”. Although it appears that she did have contact with others who shared her warped world view, these were people using online forums, not hardcore jihadis. There was no organised plot beyond the confused grievances of Al Hashemi’s mind.

Al Hashemi’s judgment certainly seems to have lacked balance in the run up to her dreadful crime, when she took a kitchen knife and lay in wait in a mall bathroom for someone to kill for no reason other than that to her they represented the “enemy”.

But the terrible truth is that whether a person is in a disturbed state or not, the wide availability of videos that preach hate and teach bomb-making and other things poses a problem for the police and the security services. Jihadi sermons are everywhere on the internet, including on mainstream sites like YouTube and distributed via messaging services like Whatsapp. It is difficult to limit the availability of this material without severely restricting the internet.

Yet that does not mean nothing can be done. Surveillance does not have to be oppressive – and certainly as a newspaper, we are inclined towards free expression and free ideas. But when national security is at stake, the need for monitoring these sites becomes more serious. Keeping a closer eye on those who might frequent these sites may, in the future, help the security services identify sympathisers. That is only one aspect of counterterrorism. More needs to be done to counter the narrative of radical ideology. Only a cohesive approach will ensure that the UAE never again faces a tragedy like this.