This Jordanian Left Her Life as a Beauty Queen to Be an Islamic State-Fighting Hacktivist
Lara Abdallat is not your average beauty queen. She was Miss Jordan 2010 and first runner-up to Miss Arab 2011, but she abandoned her career in pageantry to do something slightly more controversial and dangerous.
Abdallat is currently fighting the Islamic State group and Islamic extremists as a hacktivist with Ghost Security, an international counterterrorism organization tenuously affiliated with Anonymous, perusing the Deep Web and the Darknet for suspicious activity.
It is largely believed groups like the Islamic State are using the Darknet to do things such as secretly recruit, plan attacks and exchange intelligence. As activity in this Internet underworld is much harder to track, one needs to be a technological whiz to know how to navigate this murky territory — GhostSec's campaign is known as #OpISIS.
Think the plot of Miss Congeniality, but in reverse. Instead of going from stopping bad guys to becoming a pageant winner, she's doing it the other way around.
"It got really sick for me to open the news every day in the morning and see thousands of people killed and it was getting frustrating. I told my dad I would love to open the TV and see something cheerful," Abdallat told Mic.
So, in November 2014, Abdallat started tentatively working with Ghost Security and after a few months of sussing one another out, they are now as close-knit as family, she says.
"Our mission is to eliminate the online presence of Islamic extremist groups such as Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab in an effort to stymie their recruitment and limit their ability to organize international terrorist efforts," the Ghost Security website reads. Because of the networks GhostSec targets, Abdallat is protective about her location — she spends two-thirds of the year traveling — and her place of residence in Aman, Jordan, in case they try to reciprocate.
The former beauty queen told Mic she and her fellow hacktivists could not be more passionate and committed about combating the Islamic State group and other terrorist networks. Abdallat believes no human has the right to decide the fate of another's life. "Without GhostSec, I never would've accomplished all this," she said.
It's personal. Abdallat is the daughter of a Jordanian father and a Turkish-Syrian mother, so she feels deeply connected to the region. She is also the only Muslim member of Ghost Security.
"All of [Ghost Security] respect the Islamic religion. And they're fighting against any vandalism against the image of Islam [on the Internet]," she said.
"We're locating a lot of the Islamic State's websites and Facebook or Twitter [accounts] or blogs. We can locate and target [them], and we work on closing them down because they share terroristic information," Abdallat explains. When Ghost Security uncovers plans for targeted attacks, they don't hesitate to share information with law enforcement, such as the FBI or CIA.
She spoke of two recent examples where GhostSec allegedly played a role in quelling terrorist attacks. In the first instance, according to Abdallat and the Black Sphere, GhostSec helped thwart an attack on New York's Times Square on Independence Day 2015. They reportedly located a Twitter user and Islamic State sympathizer who was in the process of organizing the attack; GhostSec then passed along information for this plan to the FBI and CIA and the extremist's plans were stopped in their tracks.
In the second instance, Abdallat and the Black Sphere report, GhostSec discovered a Twitter account attempting to orchestrate terrorist attacks in Djerba, Tunisia, on British and Jewish tourists. Once again, the counterterrorism organization shared their information with law enforcement and ultimately 17 people were arrested.
"I want to tell you, I got goosebumps that day. It was like my joy [from it was] more than delivering a baby to this world. I felt this more intensely," Abdallat said of their role in stopping the attacks.
For the sake of saving lives. While Abdallat is involved in a number of other endeavors (including launching her own clothing line), she gives no indication of stopping her hacktivism.
"It's about saving lives, dear: I don't care if they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist. I don't care. I don't care what skin color you are. It's about protecting people," she passionately said about her work with GhostSec.
"Souls were born free. Who are you to kill?" Abdallat says of the individuals her team targets. She also said she believes such people are anything but Muslim and instead use the religion for their personal advantage. "Islam is a peaceful religion. Nothing in it says we should take souls. A soul is something very precious."
In this new age of terrorism, where nefarious plotting commences in the Darknet rather than dark rooms, hacktivists such as Abdallat are on a new frontier of quelling terroristic activities. With Abdallat's skills come great power, but she assured Mic that she and her team would never abuse that power.
"We would only ever hack in a humanitarian way. We would never use it in a way to disturb normal individuals or governments."