Call it the new journalism … for a niche market.
Should your interests veer toward articles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” written by authors such as “The AQ Chef” and “Terrorist,” there’s a new magazine for you.
Dubbed Inspire, the 67-page glossy of photos and text is an online recruitment magazine for English-speaking jihadists. It’s the brainchild of U.S.-Yemeni radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is targeted for assassination by the Obama administration.
Published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the magazine offers messages from Osama bin Laden on “the way to save the earth,” from his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri to the “people of Yemen” and from Mr. al-Awlaki to “the American people and Muslims in the West.”
And it touts itself as the first magazine to be issued by al Qaeda in English.
However, its launch has been far from smooth. Because of technical glitches, only the first three pages are available online.
The fact that the magazine is in English indicates al Qaeda’s attempt to reach potential recruits who do not speak Arabic. A letter from the editor notes that in the “West; in East, West and South Africa; in South and Southeast Asia and elsewhere are millions of Muslims whose first or second language is English.”
Mr. al-Awlaki himself, who was born in New Mexico, is fluent in English.
Juan Carlos Zarate, a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and currently a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he had sufficient reason to believe the publication is authentic. He said he sees Mr. al-Awlaki’s fingerprints all over the project.
But Mr. Zarate said the most significant development is that the publication is produced by AQAP rather than As-Sahab, al Qaeda’s media arm, saying it indicates a shift of focus of the global terrorist movement to Yemen.
“In some ways, it starts to move the center of gravity of English-language recruitment to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Anwar al-Awlaki,” Mr. Zarate said, noting that Yemen is becoming “a centerpiece of recruitment for English-speaking individuals drawn to the siren song of Anwar al-Awlaki’s message.”
Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said he sees the jihadi publication as a symbol of the threat posed by AQAP to the U.S.
“Inspire symbolizes the rise of AQAP as a threat to the American homeland,” Mr. Riedel said. “Awlaki is focused on inspiring more Fort Hoods and Inspire is one of his means to do so. He only needs to find one good bomber to succeed.”
Mr. al-Awlaki has been linked to various acts of terrorism directed against the U.S. by intelligence officials.
Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in November, had been in contact with Mr. al-Awlaki before the massacre. Mr. al-Awlaki later described the attack as a “heroic act.”
The suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the suspect in the attempted car bombing at Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, also said they were inspired by Mr. al-Awlaki’s anti-American sermons.
A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter, said: “Al Qaeda, its regional nodes and other terrorist groups have produced propaganda for years in English and other languages. That’s not new.”
But the official said such propaganda is “an easy way for them to spread their message, promote radicalization, and — perhaps — attract new recruits to the Arabian Peninsula.”
The magazine’s cover prominently features this quote from Mr. al-Awlaki: “May our souls be sacrificed for you!”
The U.S. counterterrorism official said the Yemeni cleric frequently relies on propaganda to spread his radical messages.
“Awlaki’s no stranger to propaganda, and he’s used it often,” the counterterrorism official said. “But it’s important to note that it’s not his words, but his actions — his role in operations — that make him more dangerous than he was before.”
Mr. Zarate said while Mr. al-Awlaki has traditionally played the role of “the firebrand and of the Westernized voice of the jihadi narrative — someone who could speak English well and use the Internet to espouse a radical ideology — over the past few years it is clear that Awlaki has taken a more operational role in recruiting operatives for al Qaeda in Yemen and in helping plan operations.”
“In some ways he has crossed the line from being a mere firebrand to being an all-purpose recruiter and high-level operative for al Qaeda in Yemen,” he said.
President Obama earlier this year approved a “capture or kill” order on Mr. al-Awlaki. The move was unusual because Mr. al-Awlaki, a Yemeni citizen, also has U.S. citizenship.
Al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen has grown since 2000, when it bombed the USS Cole, killing 17 American sailors. In January 2009, Nasir al-Wahishi, leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen, announced that Yemeni and Saudi al Qaeda operatives had joined forces to form AQAP.
The threat posed by terrorists in Yemen prompted Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, to recently describe the country as “one of the foremost challenges” the U.S. faces.