WHEN INSPIRATION BECOMES “TERRORISM”

440px-inspire_magazine_cover

Inspire is an English language online magazine reported to be published by the organization al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The magazine is one of the many ways AQAP uses the Internet to reach its audience. Numerous international and domestic extremists motivated by radical interpretations of Islam have been influenced by the magazine and, in some cases, reportedly used its bomb-making instructions in their attempts to carry out attacks.[2] The magazine is an important brand-building tool, not just of AQAP, but of all al-Qaeda branches, franchises and affiliates.[3]

History

The magazine aimed at young British and American readers and provided translated messages from Osama bin Laden. The first issue appeared in July 2010.[4][5] Various articles in the second issue encouraged terror attacks on U.S. soil, suggesting that followers open fire at a Washington, D.C., restaurant or use a pickup truck to “mow down” pedestrians.[6]

The October 2010 issue included an article penned by Samir Khan, in which he wrote, “I am proud to be a traitor to America”.[7] Samir Khan was killed on September 30, 2011, in the U.S. targeted killing Predator drone attack in Yemen.[8]

Purpose

While some[who?] do not believe Inspire alone is enough to radicalize an individual, its aim is to inform and persuade a committed audience by distributing internal communications called “auto-propaganda” to strengthen morale, reduce dissent, or justify and legitimize an attack or controversial doctrine. It was also used to target an uncommitted audience to eventually win sympathy and support. Therefore, AQAP has the ability to represent themselves and their actions exactly as they wish. The controlled message is unfettered from the scrutiny of the local and international media.[9]

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution described the magazine as “clearly intended for the aspiring jihadist in the U.S. or U.K. who may be the next Fort Hood murderer or Times Square bomber“.[10] It was described by Michelle Shephard, author of Guantanamo’s Child, and a reporter for the Toronto Star, as being an extension of the online Arabic magazine Sada al-Malahim (Echo of the Battle).[11]

The magazine was thought to be the work of Anwar al-Awlaki, an English-speaking cleric and al-Qaeda leader based in Yemen. Awlaki was on the United States’ “kill or capture list“.[12][13][14][15] An editorial by al-Awlaki, entitled May Our Souls Be Sacrificed For You appeared in the first issue.[16] In the article, al-Awlaki called for attacks against all those who had slandered the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, including all Western targets.[17]

The magazine stated that its title came from a verse in the Qur’an, “Inspire the believers to fight”[18] and described itself as “A special gift to the Islamic Nation”.[11] The magazine was first “discovered” online by the SITE Institute. When the first issue of the magazine was initially released, a technical error prevented most of the magazine’s pages from loading properly.[15]

The magazine encouraged its readers to submit their own material for publication: “We also call upon and encourage our readers to contribute by sending their articles, comments and suggestions to us.”[16] The magazine’s production users were able to use multiple third-party sources (photos, videos, etc.) to create content with ease. The use of mass media was also capable of doctoring content. The separation of form and content of the media and then the ability to “mash” content together with little effort had the ability to create persuasive presentations that would catch the attention of the attended audience.[19]

This sort of crowd-sourcing has been influential in motivating extremists. Mohamad Osman Muhammed, for example, who was implicated in a plot to bomb the Portland Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010, had previously been published in a different English-language magazine called Jihad Recollections.[20]

Defensive jihad

Declarations were made for Muslims to rise in defense of their Muhammad, families, justice, and the umma. AQAP propagated that the U.S. bombing of Yemen and categorically targeting women and children. Thus they used this alleged targeting as justification of Omar al-Faruq‘s attack as retaliation. “Al-Qaeda says that violence is just retribution for Western injustices and that Islam authorizes this position.”[21]

Call to individual jihad

The articles inside Inspire were used to incite rage against non-believers and the West. The Recruiting pitch was based on the conspiracy theories and through the ideology of defensive jihad. The periodical explained what to expect in jihad and the theory of open front jihad and individual jihad. The arguments presented explained the difficulty of an open front engagement with American forces and the difficulty of traveling overseas to conduct jihad. Therefore, the solution for Muslims was individual obligatory (fard’ayn) jihad to attack while the Islamic nation was strategically weak.

[S]pontatenous [sic] operations performed by individuals and cells here and there over the whole world, without connections between them, have put the local and international intelligence apparatus in a state of confusion, as arresting the members of aborted cells does not influence the operational activities of others who are not connected with them.[22]

“Open source jihad”

Inspire promoted “open source jihad”. This shifted away from al-Qaeda’s traditional terrorist attacks to simple attacks by individuals using common items for weapons. The Summer 2010 issue advised making a pressure cooker bomb using everyday materials (“How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom”).

The Fall 2010 issue encouraged using one’s car to “mow down” people in crowded places (“The ultimate mowing machine”). The Winter 2010 issue discussed how to blow up buildings. These provided individuals with simple ideas for terror attacks, without direct ties to al-Qaeda or its affiliates. It had become too great a threat to travel abroad and receive training in al-Qaeda training camps, and direct contact with al-Qaeda members endangered the member and the aspiring terrorist. Therefore AQAP’s “open source jihad” promoted attacks without the support of a physical community. Marc Sageman, a leading expert in the field, described this phenomenon as “leaderless Jihad”.[23] While he considered this threat as “self-limiting” and one that would quickly die out, the difficulties in stopping the lone wolf attackers were great.

“Open source jihad” emerged as a necessary tactic as al-Qaeda leadership steadily vanished in the ten years since 9/11. With leaders either dead or in jail, al-Qaeda had to consider new ways to attack its enemies.[24] Al-Qadea first splintered into “franchises” by country or region, then further degenerated into solo operators, mostly of dubious capabilities.[25] Inspire became an important al-Qaeda brand tool for recruiting, informing, and motivating these open source jihadis.

“Open source jihad” allowed for an emotional response to events and validation in smaller, less spectacular attacks, such as Arid Uka‘s attack on American servicemen in Germany on March 2, 2011.[26] Uka had no training except from the Internet, where he saw a fake video of American servicemen raping a girl.[27] Though the video was falsified al-Qaeda propaganda, it was meant to elicit strong responses from their followers.[28]

Authenticity

Some scholars, such as Thomas Hegghammer (of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment) and Jarret Brachman, argued that the magazine was an unexceptional example of jihadist online literature and did not deserve the media attention it received.[29][30] Hegghammer wrote that “there is nothing particularly new or uniquely worrying” about the magazine’s content, and its connection to AQAP is likely weak: “Without signals intelligence it is extremely difficult to determine the precise nature of the link between the editors and the AQAP leadership. Judging from the amount of recycled material in Inspire, I would be surprised if the AQAP connection is very strong.”[29]

While the SITE Institute and at least one senior U.S. government official described Inspire as authentic, there was some speculation on jihadist websites and elsewhere that the magazine, due to its low quality, may have been a hoax.[31] This theory was advocated, in particular, by Max Fisher, a writer for The Atlantic.[32] Fisher listed five reasons to suspect the publication was a hoax.[32] According to Fisher, the portable document format (PDF) file that contained the first issue also contained a computer virus. Fisher noted that the magazine contained an article by Abu Mu’sab al-Suri, noting that al-Suri had been in Guantanamo since 2005, and that whether he was actually tied to al-Qaeda remained unclear. The article attributed to al-Suri was the beginning of a series that appeared in the next 5 issues of Inspire. These excerpts were all copied from a translation of Abu Musab al-Suri’s “The Global Islamic Resistance Call” which was published in a 2008 biography of him. [33]

Peter Bergen, the national security analyst for CNN, describing it as “a slick Web-based publication, heavy on photographs and graphics that, unusually for a jihadist organ, is written in colloquial English”, on March 31, 2011 discussed the column of Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of AQAP, in its fifth issue.[34]

Audience

Inspire is a unique terrorist publication in that it is very specific in the audience in which it targets instead of publishing general ideological arguments to all Muslims. Studies in terrorism[35][36] have noted that most Islamic terrorist attacks on the West are perpetrated by well-educated men living in the West, with an average age of 26 years.[35] AQAP also is aware of this, and Inspire magazine targets this demographic.

One example is in the use of imagery and text in the operations of Abyan in the Fall 2010 edition. The images are of operations directed against Yemeni troops at checkpoints, base ambushes, explosions, and “cleaning the streets” (killing the enemy). The photos show images of actions performed by the mujahid against the murtad. The captions tell a story of victory for the holy warriors with few casualties. The images and text portray a story of invincibility and defeat of Yemen’s Special Forces.

References

 

 

 

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