The extraordinary story of the solitary computer geek in a Shepherds Bush bedsit who became the world’s most wanted cyber-jihadist
About a dozen uniformed police in riot gear, and a handful of detectives, gathered outside the four-storey terraced house on a quiet street just off Shepherds Bush roundabout in West London.
After a tip-off from overseas colleagues, they knew that inside was a man in contact with a group planning a bombing in Central Europe. His name was Younes Tsouli, but the detectives knew little more about him.
As they tried to shove their way in, the young man in the top-floor flat forced his door shut. It didn’t hold for long. Once the police flooded in, there was a struggle. A mirror smashed and one officer emerged bloodied from a shard of glass. Tsouli was overpowered. “He was thoroughly detained,” one detective recalls. At first, officers were not sure that they had the right person: the long-haired young man in jogging shorts bore little resemblance to the short-haired man in the photo they had been given. But when he confirmed his name, they knew they had their man. Two detectives led him away.
Amid the mess typical of any 22-year-old’s room, detectives found a laptop on a desk, still switched on and with programmes running. When specialist forensic science officers arrived, they found that Tsouli had been creating a website called YOUBOMBIT. A banner with the title and flames was across the bottom of the screen. Also on his screen was a search box with the word “bomb” as the search term. Tsouli was logged in under the username IRH007. The detectives didn’t know it – and wouldn’t realise for some weeks – but they had caught one of the most notorious, most wanted cyber-jihadists in the world: a man whose case illustrated perfectly how terrorists are using the internet not just to spread propaganda, but to organise attacks
Younes Tsouli arrived in London in 2001 with his father, a diplomat from Morocco. He studied IT at a small college in Central London. With few friends, he soon immersed himself in the world of the internet. Online images of the war in Iraq radicalised him. In his mind it was evidence of a war against Muslims. Soon he was in the darker areas of the net, and graduated from viewing images to publishing them. He used variations of the username Irhabi 007 – irhabi meaning terrorist in Arabic, and 007 being a reference to Britain’s most famous fictional spy.
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