- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Seemingly untroubled by the worldwide search for Osama bin Laden and his allies, al Qaeda maintains a state-of-the-art multimedia production facility that is pumping out increasingly sophisticated audiotapes and videotapes at a rate of two or three a week.

Ironically, however, there is evidence that Muslim audiences are tuning out the al Qaeda propaganda even as the quality and frequency of the offerings increase.

A rash of recent bin Laden tapes, most recently a message to the people of Pakistan last week, has been the work of the as-Sahab Institute, the terrorist network’s media arm.

According to IntelCenter, a U.S. firm that tracks and analyzes al Qaeda’s audiovisual messages for clients, including U.S. agencies, as-Sahab has released more than 75 videos this year — an average of one every three days.

That is double the rate the institute managed last year, when it produced 58 messages. It released just 16 videos in 2005, its first year of operation.

Ben Venzke, chief executive officer of IntelCenter, said the amount of computing power required for the fast turnaround is considerable, and that the group appears to be using the latest widely available off-the-shelf hardware and software.

“They are right on the cutting edge of the adoption of new technologies,” he said. “They grab hold of the new stuff as soon as it becomes available and start using it.”

He said the latest bin Laden video was made available in five different versions, ranging from high-definition to a special format called 3GP that can be downloaded to mobile devices. The versions were downloadable at more than 20 different places on the Web, and most messages are also released on a CD-ROM format disc as well.

“They produce versions [subtitled] in different languages, and for each of those versions the graphics and the content might be different, too,” he said.

U.S. officials are reluctant to talk in detail about as-Sahab, perhaps because a careful monitoring of its operations could offer the best chance of finding bin Laden.

Asked last week about the group, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said simply that technology and the globalized 21st century “make it possible for a relatively small group of people to exercise tremendously disproportionate power.”

“It might be disappointing, but it shouldn”t be surprising” that they continue to operate, Gen. Hayden added.

The use of subtitles in English, German, Danish and many other languages indicates something else about the messages, according to some analysts: They are aimed at the West.

“These messages are carefully tailored for a Western audience,” said Raymond Ibrahim, a scholar of Islam and Middle Eastern history at the Library of Congress.

That may account for recent polling showing that, despite the increased sophistication of as-Sahab, al Qaeda’s message is just not resonating with Muslims as it once did.

Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, noted in an opinion article this month that support for al Qaeda has tumbled in Pakistan to just 34 percent, compared with more than 75 percent five years ago.

Recent polling has shown a similar trend in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 90 percent of respondents reported unfavorable views of al Qaeda and of bin Laden himself, Mrs. Hughes wrote.

Violence of the sort used by al Qaeda is considered a violation of the principles of Islam by 88 percent in Egypt, 65 percent in Indonesia and 66 percent in Morocco, according to polling by WorldPublicOpinion.org, Mrs. Hughes said.

She also noted a growing revulsion with Islamist terrorism in Algeria and argued that the shift in attitudes accounts for increasing cooperation with U.S. forces by Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq.

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