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Thursday, June 8, 2006

Analysis: Release of Zarqawi Death Photo Offers Propagandists Opportunity

By J.M. Berger

The U.S. military released a photo of the corpse of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi after announcing the terrorist leader's death in an air strike Thursday.

The release, while understandable, will almost certainly be integrated into al Qaeda propaganda videos and tributes with days, if not hours.

Traditionally, jihadist propaganda places a high premium on photos of deceased mujahideen and "martyred" terrorists, the gorier the better.

While unpleasant to a Western sensibility, the military's photo is made to order for al Qaeda propaganda purposes. For comparison purposes, the photo (which has already been widely distributed) is reproduced below, along with a photo from The Martyrs of Bosnia, an al Qaeda propaganda video.

The photo itself -- and its framed presentation during an Army press conference earlier Thursday -- are practically tailor-made for a martyr's tribute. At minimum, the U.S. should have sought to stylistically distinguish the photo from its jihadist counterparts. At best, the photo could simply have been withheld from the public.

Although the U.S. prides itself on openness, the Bush administration has not hesitated to invoke secrecy over any number of topics and a wide range of material. This is one instance in which a little discretion would have gone a long way.

Warning: Graphic pictures below

Warning: Graphic pictures above

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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