Virtual safe havens and the war of ideas

Abu Muqawama has a great piece in the New Republic today. Given his very kind words for Will and myself, I am biased, but the article makes an extremely important point about the importance of virtual safe havens. Although I just posted and don’t really have the time to blog, I felt compelled to add a few thoughts. There are at least two more reasons why there ought to be a virtual dimension to the new AfPak strategy. First, the Pashto and Urdu-language part of the jihadi cyberspace is growing rapidly, and very few people are keeping track of it. Those who do rarely know the Arabic sites and vice-versa. No analyst I know has enough Arabic and Pashto to connect the dots (except Mustafa Abu al-Yazid). Second, the Internet infrastructure in Afghanistan and Pakistan is relatively poorly developed compared to the Arab world. This is very worrying, because it

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Oslo Workshop Summary (part 1)

The weekend before last I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating workshop in Oslo that brought together scholars from Sciences-Po Paris, West Point and FFI, three of the world’s largest centres for academic research on jihadism. Since all participants are involved in cutting-edge research, it was a great opportunity to assess the state of both the jihadi movement and the field of jihadism studies. I guess the conclusion was that we are both doing pretty well, although the future looks somewhat bleaker for the jihadis. The opening panel featured the three “bosses” Gilles Kepel, Reid Sawyer and Brynjar Lia. Kepel, drawing on his latest book, spoke about the exhaustion of the two competing grand narratives in the conflict between the US and al-Qaida, namely the “War on terror” narrative and the “Jihad and martyrdom narrative”. Kepel argued al-Qaida’s narrative had lost much of its capacity of attraction and that

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I have been busy the past two weeks, but the jihadis have been busier. Bin Ladin has issued two audio statements, one proposing practical steps to liberate Palestine and the other about the treacherous government in Somalia. Al-Zawahiri warned against the forthcoming Crusader attack on Sudan, while Mustafa Abu al-Yazid has addressed the people of Pakistan. Abu Umar al-Baghdadi has spoken about the US plan to withdraw from Iraq, but he does not seem to get the same attention from the online community as his colleagues in Afghanistan. Abu Qatada has issued a statement from prison about the decision to extradite him to Jordan. Fatah al-Islam sharia officer Abu Abdallah al-Maqdisi has been taking questions since Monday, but nobody is allowed to ask about Shakir al-Absi or Asad al-Jihad2 (hmm). On the magazine front, Sumud 33  has been out for a little while. Fortunately Sada al-Malahim 8 came out on

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Jihadica is quiet these days, mainly because all our contributors are busy preparing for an interesting workshop that takes place in Oslo later this week. Academics from FFI, Sciences-Po Paris and West Point will gather to discuss their latest research on militant Islamism. There will undoubtedly be fascinating discussions and I hope to bring you some of the highlights here on Jihadica next week.

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Child Martyrs

[Editor’s note: I am very proud to introduce a new contributor, FFI researcher Qandeel Siddique, who will be covering Urdu-language jihadi websites for Jihadica]. The Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, led by the famous Masood Azhar, has a strong presence on the Urdu-language wing of the jihadi internet. Among its less savory operations is an online jihadi magazine tailored especially for children, entitled Musalman Bachay [Muslim Children]. In the magazine, Masood Azhar and others regale their young readers with anecdotes from personal battles, as well as fictional pieces, centering on the importance of Islam and being a “good Muslim”, and convincing them of the bravery and honor in pursuing the path of jihad. The aim of this magazine is quite evident: to lure young minds into Jaish-e-Mohammad’s ideological fold. This arguably gives meat to JeM’s broader strategy of harnessing support for jihadi missions. The magazine contains articles on religion and combat

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The History of the Jihadi Forums

One of the most intriguing questions about the jihadi internet is how it came into being. The early history of jihadi websites remains very poorly understood. Most of us started studying them too late, and we are too busy keeping track of present developments to examine the past. My curiosity was therefore piqued by a recent article by ‘Mihdar’ on Midad al-Suyuf, who provides what he calls a ‘complete historical analysis’ of the jihadi forums on the web. Considering Mihdar’s record as a somewhat controversial figure – for other controversies involving Madad al-Suyuf, see here or here, the study should be taken with a grain of salt. And indeed, Mihdar is more interested in politics than in facts. He devotes a considerable part of his ‘analysis’ to lashing out at other jihadi forums, in particular criticising the policy of closing forums to registered members only. This, he argues, both restricts

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Prêt à porter terrorism

As most Jihadica readers probably know, the jihadi internet is used for many things, but not for operational planning. I have yet to come across online discussions or instructions for concrete operations by professional militants. However, once in a while you see amateurs proposing specific operations – “prêt a porter plots” – for others to carry out. One such bright idea was posted on Faloja yesterday by a member named Sabir, who proposes that al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula (QAP) fire Katyusha rockets from the Saudi shore of the Gulf of Aqaba toward Sharm al-Sheikh, where international leaders are meeting today to raise money for the reconstruction of Gaza. Sabir addresses his message “to Abu Basir [Nasir al-Wuhayshi], Emir of al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula” and humbly presents “a small and simple operation for three Islamic lions from the military corps under your command.” He notes that Ras al-Shaykh Hamid

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