Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known by the acronym AQAP at the CIA, is about to release its first English-language magazine. It’s a Web-based journal of propaganda aimed at inciting violent acts among would-be terrorists living in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and other Western countries.
American officials are deeply concerned.
The magazine, which came to light in a slick banner advertisement on various jihadist websites in the past two days, is called Inspire—after a verse in the Koran urging faithful Muslims to “inspire the believers to overcome all fear of death” and “fight in Allah’s cause.”
“The packaging of this magazine may be slick, but the contents are as vile as the authors,” says a counterterrorism official.
The banner ad, over the caption “Soon,” features a slide show touting the magazine’s first issue: “A SPECIAL GIFT TO THE ISLAMIC NATION.” “The first magazine issued by Al-Qa’idah in the English language.” “INSPIRE… and inspire the believers.’” “An exclusive interview with Shayk Abu Basir [a top aide to Osama bin Laden] and with Shaykh Anwar al-Awlaki as a guest writer.”
It’s apparently the project of New Mexico-born jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based former imam who is said to have “inspired” three of the 9/11 hijackers; the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan; the Christmas Day underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad. The 39-year-old Awlaki—dubbed “the bin Laden of the Internet”—is a prime target of U.S. counterterrorism operations.
“The U.S. government is aware of this new propaganda vehicle by al Qaeda in Yemen and Anwar Awlaki,” a counterterrorism official told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “AQAP and Awlaki are clearly trying to incite terrorist activity overseas, and to recruit new extremists. The packaging of this magazine may be slick, but the contents are as vile as the authors.”
Former CIA analyst and counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and Daily Beast contributor, said the appearance of Inspire is an ominous development in al Qaeda’s ambitious effort to cause mayhem in Western democracies.
“I think it shows several things,” Riedel, who had spent the last day burning up the phone lines to colleagues in the intelligence community, told me. “First, the audience here is clearly the aspiring jihadist in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia who is not really fluent in Arabic or Dari but who wants to know more about jihad—and this is a way of getting it out to that audience and radicalizing it and inspiring future Fort Hood murders and future Times Square bombers who are already living in the United States…The trend we’ve seen in the last year and a half is less global terrorism and much more homegrown domestic terrorism within Muslim communities.”
Riedel said that despite a sophisticated and sustained program by the National Security Agency’s smartest technical people “to knock jidahist websites off the Internet,” al Qaeda’s operatives are equally brilliant, resourceful, and resilient.
“It’s really a war on the Internet,” Riedel told me.
As for Inspire, “the advertising is very effective… and the production values are high,” Riedel said. Rather than a traditional magazine on slick paper, “it will exist electronically,” he predicted. “And it’s not looking for some subscription base of millions. It’s looking to trigger one or two individuals who can actually conduct some act of violence. From the standpoint of al Qaeda, it’s not intended to be a bestseller. They’re just looking for one guy who will be inspired by this to bomb Times Square, and this time maybe he will put together the bomb correctly.”
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.