MOSCOW - Russia's top security official warned on Wednesday that Islamist militants were increasingly using the Internet to fight for the "minds and hearts" of disillusioned youths, Russian media reported.
Federal Security Service (FSB) director Alexander Bortnikov emphasized the importance of countering the use of the Internet to lure people into extremist groups, remarks that could deepen concerns of a possible crackdown on the Internet in Russia.
His comments also reflect concerns about militant threats to Russia, which is fighting a growing Islamist insurgency in its restive mainly Muslim North Caucasus region and has expressed concern about Islamic extremism in nearby Central Asia.
"It is precisely there (on the Internet) that a real war is unfolding for the minds and hearts of ordinary citizens, primarily youth," Interfax quoted Bortnikov as saying.
Joblessness, poverty and the heavy-handed tactics of security forces have helped drive youths in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus into militant groups whose leaders use online messages to call for attacks to carve out an Islamic state.
The FSB, domestic successor of the Soviet KGB, called in April for access to encrypted communication providers such as Gmail and Skype, raising concerns the government could rein in Internet freedoms ahead of a presidential election next March.
Government critics say the authorities sometimes use concerns about extremism as a pretext to crack down on dissent. (Reuters)