Grief and fear give full rein to the superstitious and the wacko

Superstition runs rife in times of grief, and this week was no exception. Newspapers reported the face of Satan appearing in smoke billowing from the World Trade Centre and US Bible-thumper Jerry Falwell blamed the attack on 'the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians . . . '.

'God will not be mocked,' warned Mr Falwell. 'We make God mad.'

But the most widespread dose of gullibility went to the millions of e-mail users who continue to spam one another with dodgy Nostradamus prophecies.

If you have not yet received one of these, you will soon. The truth of the matter can be found at

Open-source software evangelist and gun nut Eric Raymond announced a novel solution to the problem of hijackings - arm the passengers. According to Mr Raymond: 'The lawmakers who disarmed all the non-terrorists on those four airplanes, leaving them no chance to stop the hijackers, bear part of the moral responsibility for this catastrophe.'

Just imagine it - gunfights in pressurised compartments at 35,000 feet. To quote one of the thousands of negative responses posted to open source Web forums: 'What a wacko.'

Scores of Web businesses, from the click-for-charity Hunger Site to outright e-mail fraudsters, used their considerable reach to send out alerts and charity appeals last week. But Nicholas Longo, chief executive of CoffeeCup Software, went one better, e-mailing his database of 1.3 million users of his HTML editing software, calling for the 'complete destruction and annihilation' of whichever country was responsible for the attack.

Having quickly sorted through the thousands of replies, Mr Longo posted a colour-coded map on his site to illustrate which parts of the world agreed with him, and which did not. Those in favour of genocide apparently included the Muslim states of Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Sudan. A geography lesson might be in order.

Despite protestations that the assault would have no effect on American freedoms, it appears that changes are afoot.

Politicians called for bans on encryption software, and at least one anonymous remailer (MagusNet) closed down voluntarily.

Two days after the attack, US legislators passed a bill to ease the deployment of the FBI's Carnivore Internet wiretap system.

The Combating Terrorism Act says the FBI can install the system for 48 hours without the approval of a judge. Until now, the bureau has had to ask ISPs for permission to install the device.

Britain's Daily Telegraph has changed its generally pro-Internet tone this week. 'Once the Internet is implicated in the killing of Americans, its high-rolling days may be reckoned to be over,' read one editorial.

The next day, a columnist took the concept a little further.

'The mobile telephone and e-mail, probably encrypted, must have been the means by which the atrocities were co-ordinated,' guessed John Keegan. 'It might be thought impossible to carry on without either. It should be remembered, however, that neither existed 20 years ago and the world managed perfectly well.'

He went on to suggest that all telecoms traffic should be controlled by the military and satellites suspected of carrying bad guys' data should be shot down.

None of those calling for Draconian measures against the Internet have noted that the US economy would collapse without it. Or that the entire system was first conceived by the US military to protect wartime communications.

And of all the countries that could suffer from the Internet's closure, Afghanistan would not even notice. The Internet is illegal there.

Though it was widely overlooked, four days before the attacks 80 FBI agents raided a Texan ISP named InfoCom Corp, seizing its servers and temporarily closing it down.

According to the Washington Post, the company houses more than 1,000 Web sites, many of them Islamic portals and news services. The Web sites remained offline until the FBI had made back-up copies of them all. Immediately after the raids, a company spokesman told the Post the raids related to reports that Islamic militants are using the Internet to co-ordinate international terrorist activities.

Though denial-of-service attacks have taken down most hacking mirrors in recent months, it appears that the September 11 violence has seen a backlash of hack attacks against Islamic Web sites.

Some closed chatrooms and message boards to avoid the onslaught of abusive mail, while others, such as, repeatedly have been defaced.

But the biggest hack attack came from someone nicknamed Fluffi Bunni. Mr Bunni defaced 10,000 Web sites this weekend when he redirected the servers of Web host NetNames. Surfers attempting to access any of the pages were given an image of a small pink rabbit with a PC and the words 'Fluffi Bunni goes JIHAD'.

According to, the rabbit's computer screen reads 'If you want to see the Internet again, give us Mr bin Laden and $5 million in a brown paper bag. Love Fluffi B.'

More news on the evils of computer games. Many newspapers suggested that the terrorists could have honed their flying expertise with the help of Microsoft's Flight Simulator.

Despite having claimed in the past that the US Navy has used the software to train its pilots, Microsoft told reporters the game was not all that realistic after all.

Meanwhile, many stores have removed the game from their shelves, while Microsoft announced on Saturday that it would remove New York from the next edition of the game.