Pathetic Psy-ops

Posted: 5th February 2009 by Thomas Hegghammer in Algeria, AQ in Iraq, Conspiracy Theories, propaganda, Saudi Arabia, Western media

The British tabloid The Sun reported yesterday that al-Qaeda leaders rape male recruits to shame them into becoming suicide bombers. Let me start by congratulating the journalist on being able to fit the four words “al-Qaida”, “gay”, “rape” and “horror” in one and the same headline in the world’s largest English-language newspaper.

I would not normally bother with this kind of nonsense were it not for the fact that it sheds light on the recent reports about AQIM’s alleged plague experiments, covered previously on Jihadica. Both stories were broken in the West by The Sun, and both stories relied on Algerian security sources. We are most likely dealing here with an anti-al-Qaida psy-op, and a very poor one at that.

These latest stories echo an only marginally better operation targeting al-Qaida in Iraq last winter. It involved a steady stream of articles about al-Qaida exploiting all kinds of defenceless people for suicide missions: children, women with Down’s syndrome, orphaned homeless children with mental disabilities, and what not. This rapid succession of articles over the same theme reeked of information warfare. Of course al-Qaida in Iraq has used suicide bombers under 18 as well as female attackers. But given that reports from the same period highlighted a steady influx of able-bodied foreign fighters, why on earth would al-Qaida spend precious resources on disabled operatives? I am surprised that so many serious media outlets have uncritically conveyed these articles.

While the gay rape story wins the prize for worst psy-op ever, the silver medal goes to the Saudis, who claimed in 2003 that al-Qaida had planned terror attacks on pilgrims in Mecca and had booby-trapped copies of the Quran. In fact, since then the Saudi Interior Ministry has made a tradition of “warning against” or “foiling” attacks in Mecca almost every year around the Hajj; most recently in 2007 and 2008. To my knowledge, there is not a single indication in the jihadi literature that al-Qaida or its affiliates have ever contemplated an attack on pilgrims in Mecca. (The Juhayman group which attacked the Mecca mosque in 1979 represented a highly unusual apocalyptic sect).

For the record, several of these reports were subsequently denied. This was the case with the stories about the plague, the use of women with Down’s syndrome and the 2008 Hajj attacks. But of course the denials do not get nearly the same attention as the initial impact story.

Does it matter if we circulate stories that are not completely true, if it helps defeat al-Qaida? Well, maybe not, if counterterrorism is our only concern. But then we shouldn’t complain about the spread of conspiracy theories in the Muslim world.

  1. bix says:

    You rule. Spot on!

  2. Oz Ozzie says:

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25006101-12335,00.html

    Are you claiming this is psy-ops too?

    I note with interest that the Australian report doesn’t link this to A-Q, but http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article5661466.ece does. hmm.

  3. isa says:

    if i may ask a question, i would like to know what it is that perpetuates the idea that al-qaeda ideologically is not a more just ideology for america than that which is fighting it (west). we must also hypothesize that true islam is, being represented by al-qaeda. thank you kindly for any imput.

  4. I think that stories that aren’t completely true will continue to be circulated even if the Ministry of Truth steps in. Mind you I sense a distinct readership profile when seeing the Sun mentioned and thinking of other media outlets to choose from. If anything, it might mean a discernable pattern of “targeted” marketing and our sense of nausea is just collateral damage.

    Even Middle Eastern gays are skeptical of such reports as can be read here . . .

    http://gaymiddleeast.blogspot.com/2006/07/appalling-acts-of-murder-and-gay.html

    http://themiddleground.blogspot.com/2005/08/homosexual-jihadis.html

    http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2006/9/islamterror131.htm

  5. Teba says:

    I would not be to swift in dismissing the fact terrorist groups like AQIM and AQI try to manipulate the feelings of ‘honour’ within a community, even if they need to use tactics like rape. I’ve already seen several independent reports indicating that this is happening from time to time. This of course doesn’t exclude the fact that the story presented in the Sun is indeed a the result of a psy-ops operation by Algerian security services. But I my opinion, it’s about time the hypocrisy of those who call themselves the ‘righteous ones’ is exposed.
    With regard to the foreign fighter influx in Iraq, it is my understanding the influx has decreased with over 50% in 2008. Whether this has provoked the increase in female suicide bombers or not, is another matter.

  6. isa says:

    teba,
    if al-qaeda represents islam, then what you say is either a lie, or false reports, ‘I’ve already seen several independent reports indicating that this is happening from time to time.’
    it is quite understandable at this point that the hypocrites have been exposed, whether you like it or don’t. and that my original question, although unanswered, has been answered.

    thank you.

  7. Praxis says:

    Thomas,

    If this is an Algerian Government’s PSYOP campaign (which could very well be), why do you think they have turned to the Sun to release this bogus information?? Who are they trying to scare off?

  8. Finally, some sensible coverage of these stories!

  9. SA says:

    While I cannot speak to the stories of AQ’s rape of male suicide bomber recruits, I can verify the validity to the other stories you question.

    While in Diyala province in early 2008 I personally saw the remains of a female suicide bomber with Down’s Syndrome as well as a mentally disabled adolescent male who was unwittingly detonated while pushing a cart in front of a small school. There were many other cases of female suicide bombers too, both young and old.

    I am sure these stories were jumped on by the Coalition as effective information warfare tools. However, just because they are effective tools in the information realm does not always mean they are false.

    Further, the rise in reports of female and disabled suicide bombers coincided with reports in a drop in foreign recruits entering Iraq as well as a drop in recruiting within Iraq.

    Why the Sun? Who would they be trying to target within that readership. Either they are way off or the Sun is sensationalizing unconfirmed threads of information, which would be rather typical.

  10. […] ce n’est pas clair), sinon pour relever qu’un autre excellent blog, Jihadica, a fait la même remarque, soulignant que The Sun avait diffusé, fin janvier, des “informations” selons […]

  11. Hm, I’m just comfortable with this but nevertheless not entirely certain, so i’m gonna research even more.

  12. Further, the rise in reports of female and disabled suicide bombers coincided with reports in a drop in foreign recruits entering Iraq as well as a drop in recruiting within Iraq.