Western terrorism analysts jumped with excitement over the release of the English jihadi magazine Inspire, volume two. American analysts get really excited about this magazine because it’s in English, so they can actually read it without translator support. If I had to guess, I’d estimate that 75% of all people that read this magazine are Western counterterrorism analysts.
Thankfully, two reviews of this new Inspire issue take a reasonable approach. Internet Haganah and Thomas Hegghammer at Jihadica provide informed reviews illustrating the obvious weaknesses of the magazine. Meanwhile, several of the “ePundits searching for iJihad” make this magazine out as a revolution in modern terrorism. These Western analysts are horribly misguided. They cannot explain why this new batch of jihadi literature would inspire someone more than the millions of pieces of jihadi propaganda currently on the Internet (in fact, much of this content is recycled old stuff). At this point, there is no evidence that a significant number of new recruits are inspired by this publication. I’m certain that one or two zealous terrorist recruits who happened to read this magazine will ultimately commit attacks. But, Inspire will be only one of hundreds of propaganda pieces that assisted in radicalizing these new recruits.
The only people we can be certain are inspired by this magazine are Western analysts who make money by speaking and writing about its ‘danger’, and government analysts who receive attention for hyping its threat. Inspire will only motivate Westerners to participate in terrorism if we hype it to such a level that new recruits think it must be legitimate. The magazine itself recommends recruits access jihadi propaganda from ePundit monitoring sites that repost the magazine. So thank you ePundits for making it easier for terrorists.
Here are my quick thoughts on Inspire.
This volume points to a serious leadership vacuum in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and in al Qaeda (AQ) globally. Thomas mentions that Samir Khan, the magazine’s author, remains relatively removed from the center of AQAP based on the magazine’s content. I agree. Khan’s writings reflect exactly what he is; a guy who used to sit in his parent’s basement writing angry thoughts in private and being meek in public.
Khan’s strategy recommends low cost operations in America. Khan advises new recruits not to travel abroad, not to use mobile phones or the Internet, not to interact with other activists, and not to access jihadi websites. According to this strategy, I’m not sure how any follower would acquire Inspire magazine, volume 3. Essentially, Khan has proposed a strategy that resembles the thoughts of a young, socially-isolated, basement dweller. Khan is a tactical and strategic novice that can make flashy webpages. Yes, he may execute a lesser Ft. Hood attack someday when he hits age 30 and still hasn’t found a girlfriend.
Khan’s strategy provides a diluted strategic vision for AQAP and AQ as a whole. I imagine Abu Musab al-Suri, AQ’s noteworthy strategist, would be extremely frustrated by such a weak plan of action. Shooting sprees and mowing down of pedestrians on crowded streets; these are not the attacks of strategic vision. Khan’s suggested strategy is more similar to the approach of anarchist groups. Khan’s “get your jihad on at home” approach:
1) points to no apparent strategic goal; how would this support the formation of a caliphate, promote Islamic law, deface a symbolic American target, or weaken the U.S.?
2) regurgitates attacks Khan watched in the states; Major Hassan’s 2009 shooting spree and the University of North Carolina (UNC) SUV Attack in 2006.
3) tells new recruits to remain isolated and harder to detect, and thus less likely to execute a meaningful attack. There is always a tradeoff between security and operational control for terrorist groups, but this approach errors on the extreme side of security. This isolation approach is harder for law enforcement and intelligence to detect, and is also not likely to produce a respectable attack either.
4) weakens AQ’s base of support. Should a recruit execute these one-off attacks, they are unlikely to achieve significant media time or significant effect. The UNC driving attack hardly created a blip on the radar. Instead, these do-it-yourself attacks will likely fail and appear the work of fools. This version of AQ-inspired terrorism looks amateurish and further alienates an ever decreasing base of popular support.
Ultimately, our over-reacting, public response to Khan’s proposed attacks will be the only thing that can empower his plan.