Inspiring Extremism

[caption id="attachment_55239785" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Al-Qaeda has released the tenth edition of its online magazine, which aims to recruit young Western Muslims and seek Western targets. Sherwin McGehee Al-Qaeda has released the tenth edition of its online magazine, which aims to recruit young Western Muslims and seek Western targets. Sherwin McGehee [/caption]

A number of new jihadi fronts for recruitment and combat have opened up as a result of the upheaval ensuing from the Arab Spring. From the Arabian Peninsula, through Syria and across North Africa, power vacuums and political disenchantment have provided an unexpected boon to Islamist militants looking to capitalize on chaos.

The tenth edition of Inspire magazine, an English-language magazine linked to Al-Qaeda, was released to the radical Al-Fida' online forum on February 28. It serves as a reminder that, despite current jihadi optimism and increased opportunities to strike at their ‘near enemies’ in the region, the jihad against the Western ‘far enemy’ is not forgotten—or at least, not in the wider ideological imagination.

Bristling from the reality that there has not been a high casualty attack against a major Western target for years and critical of Al-Qaeda’s track record of mainly inter-Muslim bloodshed, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has angled for Muslims in the West to take matters into their own hands since 2010. At the forefront of this radicalizing effort were the English-speaking propagandists Anwar Al-Awlaki, Samir Khan and Abu Yazid Al-Qatari. Although these men have all been slain in recent months, their mandate has been taken up by some of their cohorts, including Yahya Ibrahim. They clearly see a potentially worthwhile strategy in the appeal to Western Muslims.

Inspire continues the recurring theme of lone jihad, with the editorial calling on “Muslim brothers in the West” to take up their responsibility towards the Umma. Throughout the glossy publication, Western Muslims—particularly in the US, UK, France, Denmark, Norway and Italy—are reminded that “they are more capable of crushing the enemy at its heart,” and that hitting the enemy in his backyard “drives him crazy.”

This latest edition includes the obligatory homily by current Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, but its power lies in the opposite of his predictable and characteristically dry sermonizing. Playing on the gritty urban glamor associated with the videogame generation, the “knight of lone jihad” and the “terrorist next door” are rendered, both discursively and through graphics and images, as akin to a dark, perhaps reluctant, superhero.

Beyond glamorizing, a variety of techniques are used to inspire would-be lone mujahids, in accordance with a Qu'ranic verse calling on Muslims to “inspire the believers” (Sura 4. 84). Appeals are made to the conscience of the reader, through sweeping accounts of the suffering and humiliation of Muslims across the globe. The strategy of shaming into action is also apparent in the women’s section, where female contributors describe their desperation to join the fight, were it not for their fragility.

It also uses sob stories to emphasize the point, such as that of Sheikh Omar Abdulrahman, the ‘Blind Sheikh’ convicted by a US court for his role in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombings. “They even watch me washing my private parts during bathing and using the toilet,” Abdulrahman complains of his American captors.

Employing rhyming couplets, a poem by the late Samir Khan called “The Dust Will Never Settle Down,” serves as a rallying call from the grave: “And how they love to appease!/ Their deen [religion] soft as cheese.”

At the same time, the magazine serves as a handbook offering a range of practical advice. It builds on the magazine’s previous “Open Source Jihad” sections, in which readers were instructed on how to make a bomb in their mother’s kitchen in the first edition and how to start forest fires in hospitable environments like Montana in the ninth. Complete with tips, diagrams and detailed explanations of the science involved, the latest edition includes advice on torching parked vehicles, laying ambush with “tire bursters,” and causing road accidents using cooking oil.

The benefits of the M16 assault rifle are also celebrated, and the magazine includes a shocking and highly personalized Wild West-style hit list. Persons wanted dead or alive for so-called crimes against Islam include controversial US pastor Terry Jones, the author Salman Rushdie, and the cartoonist Molly Norris.

Later, the theme of assassination is revived, as someone calling himself an Al-Qaeda consultant responds to an email indicating a reader’s enthusiasm to kill the US president. The consultant suggests that he focus instead on easier targets who have already left power, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Nicholas Sarkozy and Tony Blair—perhaps as they arrive or depart from a ceremony or party.

A number of topical issues are touched upon, including the US debate over gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings and the ongoing Eurozone sovereign debt crisis. The French intervention in Mali also gets prominent billing, with French President François Hollande described as “this guy [who] is totally out of his mind!”

It is clear that the publication is aimed at the uninitiated Western amateur. The meaning of the Arabic expression Al-Sham (the Levant) is carefully explained to the reader. In the “Open Source Jihad” section, the lone wolf is reminded not to leave his ID cards, fingerprints or schoolbooks behind at the scene of an operation.

Inspire magazine has been found in the possession of several foiled plotters, including the American national Nasser Jason Abdo, who literally tried to make a bomb in his motel kitchen, and four British Pakistanis from Luton who planned an attack on a British Army base using a toy car. However, in many ways, Inspire’s favored strategy plays to the West’s counterterrorism strengths. In encouraging individuals to engage in amateurish criminal activity, it exposes its recruits to the West’s intelligence-led, policing approach to the problem.

The magazine still cannot be discounted entirely. Despite being sent on the run by the new government in Yemen, and having lost Inspire’s key architects to drone strikes, its producers remain committed to this labor- and resource-intensive publication. The aim is for only one committed and intelligent self-starter, disillusioned with “working from nine to five,” as Samir Khan put it, to reinvent Al-Qaeda’s recent history of killing mainly Muslim civilians, and finally re-energize Al-Qaeda.