Google Earth used by militants to target Israel

Updated: 2007-10-26 07:11

Palestinian militants are using Google Earth to help plan their attacks on the Israeli military and other targets, the Guardian has learned.

Members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group aligned with the Fatah political party, say they use the popular Internet mapping tool to help determine their targets for rocket strikes.

"We obtain the details from Google Earth and check them against our maps of the city center and sensitive areas," Khaled Jaabari, the group's commander in Gaza who is known as Abu Walid said.

Abu Walid showed the Guardian an aerial image of the Israeli town of Sderot on his computer to demonstrate how his group searches for targets.

The Guardian filmed an al-Aqsa test rocket launch, fired into an uninhabited area of the Negev desert, last month. Despite the crudeness of the weapons, many have landed in Sderot, killing around a dozen people in the last three years and wounding scores more.

Al-Aqsa is one of several militant groups firing rockets, known as Qassams, from Gaza.

A rocket attack by Islamic Jihad on a military base last month wounded more than 50 soldiers. Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine Qassam Brigades, is not believed to be firing rockets.

Abu Walid insists there is no contradiction between his group's actions and talk of peace by Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's leader.

Bringing up archive footage of rocket launches on his computer, he said that the group had modified the home-made rockets to travel longer distances by cultivating salt from the sea. "It's a secret process, but we're very excited by the results."

The Google Earth mapping program includes satellite maps and detailed 3D models of some areas. Although the satellite images are only updated on an irregular basis - meaning that pictures of mobile targets would be unusable - some defense experts have said the easy availability of information can increase the risks for military organizations.

"There is a constant threat of reconnaissance missions to access our bases and using these Internet images is just another method of how this is conducted," said British military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge earlier this year.

It is not the first time that Google has been accused of unwittingly abetting the activities of militant groups or terrorist organizations. In January, British officials claimed that insurgents sympathetic to Al-Qaida were using aerial photography in Google Earth to locate potential targets inside British bases around the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

When asked about the use of Google Earth by al-Aqsa militants, Google said it was aware of potential problems, but would not comment specifically on the case.

"We have paid close attention to concerns that Google Earth creates new security risks," said the company.

"The imagery visible on Google Earth and Google Maps is not unique: commercial high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery of every country in the world is widely available."

The Guardian

(China Daily 10/26/2007 page9)