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PCSS 2015

Program for Cyber Security Studies director Professor Phil Lark gives participants an overview of how terrorist groups use the internet for various operations from financing to recruiting.  PCSS is a unique, two-week program on cyber security studies offered once a year at the George C. Marshall European Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The course brings together international government and military leaders to reach a shared understanding of international and country specific approaches to a more secure, global cyber network and build partnerships to resolve shared challenges. (Marshall Center photos by Karl Heinz Wedhorn /RELEASED)
Click on image to get the slide show

By his own admission, Mubin Shaikh was a Muslim extremist living in Canada when the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks occurred.

He celebrated the attacks like others in the group he hung-out with.

But that was then and this is now. Two years spent studying his religion in Syria during 2002-2004, led him to a new understanding. Returning to Canada, Shaikh worked with Canada's intelligence and police force as an undercover informant against Muslim extremists who were planning other attacks in Canada. His testimony led to the conviction of more than a dozen extremists. He was taking back his religion from those who were corrupting it. Many people he knew from his former extremist life are either in jail or dead.

Shaikh says he is now a public figure and defender of his faith from those extremist groups like ISIL who hijack pieces and parts of the Muslim faith for illegal activities. He returned to the George C. Marshall European Center, Dec. 8, to share his personal insights on how terrorist and extremist groups use the internet with participants representing 47 different countries who are attending the Program for Cyber Security Studies course.

In its second year, PCSS brings together international government and military leaders to reach a shared understanding of international and country specific approaches to a more secure, global cyber network. More importantly, the course is about building trust and relationships.

"ISIL is not Muslim. Jihad is not terrorism. They use snippets from the Muslim faith to recruit fighters and corrupt them. I use my religion in a positive way to change the dialogue," Saikh told the participants.

A recent George C. Marshall European Center report of lessons learned on combatting foreign terrorist fighters included the importance of counter narratives that drives thousands of people to join the extremist fight. Shaikh uses social media tools actively to challenge Muslim extremist efforts to recruit young people to their cause. In 2014, Shaikh was able to convert and change the understanding of a 19-year old Finnish boy who had become a recognized social media recruiter for ISIL tweeting under the handle @Mujaahid4Life.

"The state can't do what I do," said Shaikh about changing the extremist dialogue. "Non-government agencies and other Muslims must push this narrative. They are better suited to better do different types of messaging. I think there is a lot of opportunity for governments to leverage the capabilities of NGOs and other private organizations."

Shaikh's comments underscore the importance of whole-of-government approaches to address transnational threats like terrorism. PCSS is designed to bring international government and military officials involved in cyber security to do just that—find whole-of-government approaches to resolve transnational threats occurring in cyberspace.

"Violent extremists and terrorists are using the internet in 10 ways: for propaganda; for financing; for training; for planning; for execution; for recruitment; for incitement; for radicalization; for public information and for secret communications," said PCSS course director Phil Lark. "What this course does is to bring together military and government officials who are working in their respective nation cyber programs."

Shaikh also bears witness to the potential of the PCSS course at the George C. Marshall European Center.

"Last year when I was here, there was almost no conversation taking place on cyber security. Shortly after speaking here, it's when I noticed there was an uptick of cyber activity in various countries. I realize now that this Marshall Center program is ahead of the curve. I learned a lot," said Saikh.