- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2013

American al Qaeda propagandist Adam Y. Gadahn has released an audio message calling for the assassinations of U.S. diplomats across the Middle East, highlighting how the terrorist network is trying to capitalize on the deteriorating security situation in the region as post-revolutionary chaos tightens its grip on Libya.

In his 39-minute message, Gadahn congratulates “Muslim brothers in Libya” for killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi last year, calls on others to follow their example and savages elected leaders of the Libyan government as tools of the West.

The message was released as the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, and the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, remained closed Monday — the result of terrorism warnings from intercepted al Qaeda communications.

“We will continue to evaluate the threats to Sanaa and Lahore, and make subsequent decisions about the reopening of those facilities based on that information,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

In Israel, the government’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau issued travel directives because of “concrete” and “very high” terrorist threats, The Times of Israel reported.

Israelis already were banned from traveling to a half-dozen countries including Iran, Lebanon and Syria. On Monday, the bureau ordered them not to travel to Sudan, Somalia, Algeria, Djibouti, Mauritania, Libya and Tunisia or to leave those countries immediately.

Behind the warnings are “threats to carry out attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets” during upcoming Jewish holidays and the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., the bureau said.

Gadahn’s latest message, dated in March but released over the weekend, is the latest in a string of al Qaeda communications exhorting supporters to seize opportunities presented by the toppling of secular autocracies in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, called Monday for Gadahn to be treated as an “enemy combatant.”

“Even though he is an American citizen, he should be subject to being killed or captured by our military and intelligence forces,” Mr. Graham said.

‘Lacks the charisma’

Since his first public messages in 2004, Gadahn has emerged as a major English-language cheerleader for the al Qaeda terrorist network.

But a former U.S. intelligence official said it is unclear whether Gadahn has the kind of operational role that would earn him a place on the U.S. target list of suspected terrorists that President Obama has declared can be killed by U.S. special operations forces or armed drones.

Gadahn has long been a propagandist — although not a particularly effective one — for al Qaeda,” said Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Mr. Leiter said Gadahn’s propaganda alone would not earn him a place on the U.S. target list.

“As the president has made clear, the U.S. doesn’t target people for virulent speech,” he said, adding that people are targeted only “if they are actively involved in plotting terrorist attacks against the United States and there is no other way to stop their involvement.”

“In my view, it is an open question whether Gadahn has any meaningful operational role in al Qaeda, despite his past and recent calls to violence,” Mr. Leiter said.

Brian M. Jenkins, a terrorism scholar at the Rand Corp., a think tank with historic ties to the U.S. military, agreed that Gadahn is only a marginally effective communicator on the crucial battlefield of ideas.

“He lacks the charisma of [slain Yemeni-American preacher and al Qaeda leader Anwar] al-Awlaki and the style of [American-born Somali extremist propagandist Omar] al-Hamami,” Mr. Jenkins said.

“I don’t see him as appealing at all,” said Mr. Jenkins, calling Gadahn’s speaking style, even in English, “stilted.”

He compared Gadahn’s role to that of a casino greeter: “He’s there … to show they’ve got an American on the board, so to speak.”

In this latest message, Gadahn, better known by his jihadist nom de guerre, Azzam al-Amriki (“Azzam the American”), welcomes the move by the terrorist network’s branch in Yemen — al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — to put a bounty on the head of the U.S. ambassador there, Gerald Feierstein.

English and Arabic

AQAP last year offered a reward of 106 ounces of gold for the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa and a bounty of $23,350 for the killing of an American soldier there.

In his message, Gadahn urges extremists and their supporters in Libya to follow suit.

“I also ask Allah to guide good people in Libya and elsewhere to collaborate among themselves and with the mujahedeen to post similar rewards,” he said, “as these prizes have a great effect in instilling fear in the hearts of our cowardly enemies.”

The Arabic-language message, along with an English translation, was released over the weekend by as-Sahab, the media arm of al Qaeda central on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The Middle East Media Research Institute, a think tank that monitors and translates public communications from extremist groups, provided a copy to The Washington Times.

Gadahn speaks both English and Arabic, and has released messages in Arabic before, said Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter, a private-sector firm that tracks jihadist messaging.

“It used to be Gadahn’s messages were mostly delivered in English, but as his role has evolved, they now tend to be in Arabic. It reflects the fact that Gadahn is no longer just speaking to the English audience but rather to the jihadi community as a whole,” he said.

In the message, Gadahn stresses that U.S. embassies are not entitled to legal protection and that it is a religious duty for Muslims to attack them.

“Those conspiratorial missions are tantamount to a foreign occupation of Islamic land, and thus they enjoy no immunity, and it isn’t permissible to assent to their presence in Muslim countries,” he says.

In August 2007, Gadahn said al Qaeda would target diplomats and embassies in retaliation for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and allied military operations in Afghanistan.

Attacking the West

In his most recent message, Gadahn spends much time attacking Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, the head of the internationally backed government elected last year. Gadahn calls him “a secular liberal … who lived for decades among the Western unbelievers, absorbing their degenerate culture, deviant principles and sick ideas.”

Mr. Zeidan, who had been a Swiss-based opposition figure and human rights lawyer since his defection in 1980, was one of the exile leaders of the popular uprising that overthrew strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

“Is this why you rose up against the accursed al-Gadhafi?” Gadahn says of his extremist brothers in Libya. “Is this why you sacrificed? … So that you could be a partner of the senior international criminals, the dissolute Zionist and Crusader unbelievers who are the killers of innocents, suckers of peoples’ blood and spreaders of unbelief, atheism, obscenity, vice, sexual perversion and moral corruption.”

Complaints about the moral laxity of Western society have been a theme in extremist propaganda going back to the intellectual godfather of the jihadi movement, Said al-Khutub, who was horrified by a student dance he attended in the United States in the 1950s.

Such complaints loom in Gadahn’s weekend message, in which he attacks Americans for their values, including their support for democracy in the Arab world, which he calls a “corrupt civil democratic system.”

“Among American principles as well: allowing and permitting adultery, fornication, sodomy and all types of vices, obscenities and perversions in the name of personal freedom, and permitting men to marry men and women to marry women in the name of equality,” he says.

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