The second issue of the English-language jihadi magazine Inspire is out. Dina Temple-Raston, Jarret Brachman and Memri have already made some initial observations, but I’ll throw in my own for what they’re worth.
For a start, the second issue confirms that the magazine is produced out of Yemen by Samir Khan, the online propagandist who was based in the United States until October 2009. As with the first issue, the magazine contains a mix of original material and reprints of older texts by Bin Ladin, Abu Dujana al-Khurasani, Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and others. Most of the new stuff is ostensibly written by Samir Khan himself, but there are a couple of new pieces by al-Awlaki as well. There are also numerous quotes from Western media, including several about the first issue of Inspire.
Three things in the magazine struck me as noteworthy. First is the account by Samir Khan himself about the reasons and details of his move to Yemen (pp. 45-49). The piece is interesting because we don’t have that many autobiographical texts by this notorious jihadi media mogul. By his own account he is in hiding in Yemen. He must have some kind of communication link with the AQAP organization, because the magazine includes pictures from the field and interviews with AQAP members. At the same time, Inspire contains less original material than AQAP’s Arabic-language magazine Sada al-Malahim, which suggests he is further removed from the organization than his colleagues over at Sada al-Malahim.
Second is the article by Anwar al-Awlaki criticizing “the Mardin Declaration”, a statement issued in April 2010 by a group of moderate clerics who had gathered in the city of Mardin to reinterpret a famous fatwa on jihad by Ibn Taymiyya (pp. 33-40). The fact that al-Awlaki chooses to engage in this particular debate is very interesting because it suggests he and others in al-Qaida are concerned about these types of theological initiatives.
Third and most interesting is the set of articles that give specific operational advice to prospective activists based in the West (p. 51ff). There are suggestions for low-cost operations in the US soil, such as shooting sprees in restaurants catering for government workers (such as in Washington DC), and using trucks to mow down pedestrians on crowded streets. The latter tactic can be further refined, Khan suggests, by welding sharp blades to the front of the truck so as to create “the ultimate mowing machine.”
Perhaps most interesting are the advice on how to avoid detection:
- Do not travel abroad for jihad – act on US soil instead.
- Do not use mobile phones and the Internet for any jihad-related communication – if you have to, use coded language and encryption tools.
- If you are clean stay clean – do not interact with other activists.
- Do not access jihadi websites – get your jihadi propaganda fix from anti-jihadi monitoring sites such as MEMRI and SITE.
Obviously, someone who follows these guidelines is going to be extremely difficult to catch. The question is how many people are ready to act in this way. Khan’s strategy presupposes that individuals can aquire the motivation to die for the cause almost in a vacuum. However, in most historical cases, individuals only acquired this motivation after interacting with other radicals, going abroad for jihad, or accessing jihadi propaganda - all of which are activities discouraged by Samir Khan. Of course there have been exceptions, such as the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hassan, but even he was not completely “clean”, as evidenced by his email correspondence with Anwar al-Awlaki. Decentralized jihad is indeed a scary concept, but it does not necessarily work.