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Saturday, September 2, 2006

New Twists In Azzam-Zawahiri Video Urging Americans To Convert To Islam

By J.M. Berger

Ayman al-Zawahiri launched an interesting gambit this weekend with a new video releasing inviting Americans and others to convert to Islam. But in the process, he dropped a significant clue about how al Qaeda's As-Sahab Media production company works.

The 48-minute video is introduced by Zawahiri, but consists primarily of a homily on Islam by Adam Gadahn, a Californian better known by his alias Azzam the American. As previous reported by INTELWIRE, Azzam's star has been steadily rising in al Qaeda's propaganda operations. (story)

In his introduction, Zawahiri introduces Azzam by name and comments on the contents of Azzam's speech. Until now, most Zawahiri communiques have been standalone messages addressed to the wider public.

In other words, past messages have not betrayed any direct two-way interaction between Zawahiri and the As-Sahab media operation. Zawahiri could have been sending his communiques "blind" -- simply filming a message and sending it out to a semi-independent propaganda cell through a series of compartmentalized proxies.

The "handoff" to Azzam in the current video suggests the possibility of a much closer relationship between Zawahiri and As-Sahab. This, in turn, is a vulnerability for al Qaeda's leadership, since the video operation is one of the most accessible -- and potentially traceable -- links to terror network's fugitive chiefs.

The video also firmly sets Azzam as one of al Qaeda's primary spokesman. In recent months, his status has soared. With the death of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, Azaam is now the third most visible al Qaeda figure, after only Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden. His output is comparable to that of Zawahiri, and significantly higher than that of bin Laden.

Al Qaeda's media operations have in the past provided an avenue to the top leadership. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed cut his teeth producing al Qaeda propaganda videos before rising to the post of military commander.

That makes Azzam a figure to watch -- and a large potential threat. One of the few quantifiable weaknesses of al Qaeda's operations has been (arguably) a failure to understand American psychology. If Azzam becomes involved in al Qaeda's terrorist operations, he could sharpen the focus of al Qaeda attacks on the U.S.

For instance, Azzam specifically mentions several American terrorism analysts and political figures as "Zionist-Crusader missionaries of hate", including right-wing commentator Daniel Pipes; Robert Spencer, author and Webmaster of; former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit Michael Scheuer; and Investigative Project director Steven Emerson.

There is no explicit call for action against these figures; instead Azzam states that even these enemies of Islam could be saved by conversion. Nevertheless, the mention is no doubt intended to set the eyes of al Qaeda affiliates on these individuals.

In an oddly incongruous moment of Americanism during his speech, Azzam warned that soldiers killed while fighting Islam would be sent directly to hell "without passing go."

Previously on INTELWIRE:

'Azzam The American' Is A Rising Star In Al Qaeda's Media Operation

California al Qaeda Admits To 'Demonic' Music, Sloppiness Before Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times

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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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