Al Qaeda’s Seven Year Itch

Posted: October 30, 2008 in HSToday
Tags: ,

This could probably already do with a bit of updating, but the information remains interesting and valid and is part of ongoing thinking about AQ’s use of the internet. They still have that awful photo of me though.

Al Qaeda’s Seven Year Itch

By Raffaello Pantucci

Wednesday, 19 October 2008


Videos reach out to audience who believes terrorist group not weakenedLess than a month ago, after some delay, Al Qaeda’s media wing, As Sahab, finally released the terrorist group’s perennial anniversary 9/11 video. While it contained few surprises, it once again emphasized the utility of the Internet to Al Qaeda, and highlighted how the dark side of globalization has managed to harness its most useful tool.As it so often is with the online world of smoke and mirrors where Al Qaeda lurks, the reasons for the delayed release of the video are unclear. Preceeding the 9/11 anniversary, a number of the principal websites and chat forums where Al Qaeda videos and statements are usually posted were knocked offline (a few appear to have been reinstated)—an event that sparked considerable speculation about some sort of pre-planned attack, presumably by Western intelligence services.


When the video was released, it was published with the wrong password, which further frustrated already irritated online extremists. When it was finally released a week later with the correct password, the world finally was able to see what Al Qaeda considered to be the Results of the 7 Years of the Crusades.

There has been considerable speculation about the reasons for the delay. According to an ABC report, the CIA, with support from German and Malaysian intelligence, purposely sabotaged the release in an effort to undermine the terrorist organization. Subsequently, a notice was released by the Al Fajir Media Center announcing the closing of three of the most prominent Al Qaeda propaganda websites and forums: Al Ekhlaas, Al Firdaws and Al Boraq. The Center cited “technical reasons,” and suggested some sort of penetration by hostile forces.

Any visible demonstration of superiority, even if only temporary, over Al Qaeda’s online presence is essential when considering the content of the latest video. The roughly hour-and-a-half long video is a clear example of Al Qaeda propaganda. It attempts to reach out to an audience who still believe the terrorist group has not been weakened by the US’s ongoing war on terror.

Ultimately, though, the video did not provide any obvious training messages or provide any terrorist operational details. Instead, it merely served to feed the globalist rhetoric Al Qaeda thrives on and gave the organization the oxygen of publicity it needed to continue its global jihad.

As with most As Sahab Foundation releases, the quality and production value of the video was high quality, replete with computer graphics and As Sahab’s distinctive logo featured throughout. Sharp footage from battlefields—lifted from Western media (like PBS’s “Frontline” shows on the conflict in Iraq) and video shot by Mujahedeen around the world—was blended with interviews featuring Ayman Al Zawahiri and newer Al Qaeda leaders. Computer graphics gave it the feel of a network news production.

Osama Bin Laden was not featured, but his voice was dubbed over old pictures of him. Viewers were reassured, however, that he is alive and well. The video concluded with the martyrdom video of Ahmed Salah Al Ghamdi, one of the Saudi hijackers on the flight that was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center buildings.

Much was made of the absence of American Al Qaeda member, Adam Gadhan, otherwise known as Azzam Al Amiriki. It was speculated that he may have been killed in a Predator strike, but this was disproved by his subsequent half-hour release, The Believer isn’t stung from the Same Hole Twice, in which he referenced current events.

The most important thing about these videos is the strong support they give to Al Qaeda’s global narrative. In neither video do we see any of the violence that was typical of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s gory releases from the battlefield in Iraq. Instead, we saw a parade of Al Qaeda ideologues talking about current affairs and weaving together Al Qaeda’s perspective about the clash of civilizations.

While Gadhan’s video concentrates on Pakistan and calls upon people to recognize the invalidity of the leadership in that nation, the seventh anniversary 9/11 video instead provided a penetrating overview from Al Qaeda’s perspective of jihad around the world, with battlefield reports from Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa, Palestine, Somalia, Chechnya and a long, final broadside against the apostate Shia Iranian regime and its “puppet” Nassrallah in Lebanon.

In an interesting demonstration of Al Qaeda’s current global outlook, Zawahiri spent considerable time ridiculing Hezbollah’s efforts in the 2006 war against Israel. He highlighted its absence of achievements and continued to suggest a deep connection between Iran and the United States, casting Iran as another member of the apostate alliance bent on defeating true Sunni believers.

Palestine also was front and center in the video, with old footage dug up of the “father” of the anti-Soviet Afghan Arabs, Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, who rails against the centrality of Palestine in the global jihad.

Zawahiri also droned on about the importance of the liberation of Palestine, reflecting his perspective of a reality he harped on in the infamous Internet “Q&A” he conducted last December. Zawahiri answered questions he received via the Internet in a series of videos that were released earlier this year.

One prominent question Zawahiri was asked was why Al Qaeda failed to focus on the Palestinian issue, a deeply ideological matter dear to the heart of Arabs around the world. In an interesting and possibly linked development showing the potential importance of these messages, Israel’s Shin Bet rolled up a series of allegedly Al Qaeda linked cells last summer.

Al Qaeda’s failure to substantively address the Palestinian issue wasn’t the only grievance Zawahiri focused on. His videos also included considerable footage dedicated to the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan from Western bombing, and a long clip from an unknown source of disgraced US operator Jack Idema torturing an unknown Afghan.

In both Europe and Pakistan, the killings of civilians on the battlefield have become a growing political problem, with many of them attributed to the US’s war on terror. The revelation that President Bush approved cross-border incursions merely stoked the rage of believers. Some tribal leaders proclaimed they will retaliate against the West.

All of this serves to reinforce the broad perception among Muslims that the West is waging war against them, to which some may respond by taking up arms. It is within this context that one needs to consider the importance of these videos. It is unlikely that they will in and of themselves directly convert anyone to Al Qaeda’s cause, but instead will serve as fodder to get individuals already inclined towards radicalization to accept Al Qaeda’s perspective.

Early in the seventh anniversary video, Zawahiri tells viewers to get their information from mujahedeen reporters rather than the Western media, while Adam Gadhan cites Newsweek reports that highlight nefarious alliances between Islamic leaders and the West. This interesting juxtaposition highlights Al Qaeda’s ability to pervert the public narrative, which is aided by missteps taken by the alliance in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It also serves to reinforce why fewer visible efforts are made to stem Al Qaeda’s video propaganda, even though the recent shuttering of a number of Al Qaeda Internet sites would seem to indicate counter-activities against Al Qaeda’s online presence is alive and well.

At its root, the problem is not so much the videos as it is the mentality they feed upon. In this technological age, conspiratorial videos can be produced anywhere and the effort to permanently interdict them is likely more effort than it’s worth.

Ultimately, these videos are merely vehicles to stoke rage among Al Qaeda’s base and to provide believers with further incentive to do something they were likely already considering. Success in countering them will occur only when the grievances they feed off are addressed.

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