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Friday, August 3, 2007
 

Al Qaeda Web Banner Warns Of 'Big Surprise'


One of the most venerable, Al Qaeda-linked Web sites was running the ad pictured above today, which warns of a "big surprise" ahead and features pictures of President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. There's a longer story here.

The story says the image of Bush and Musharraf is set "in front of a burning White House." In fact, the image is a combination of an image of the two in front of the White House with the image of a burning car. There's another vehicle pictured at the beginning of the sequence, so this may have some significance in terms of a specific threat.

UPDATE: It's not all that surprising. There's more archival footage of bin Laden -- which is starting to look more than a little suspicious.

It's hard to imagine al Qaeda suppressing news of bin Laden's death, though that is obviously a possibility. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many other observers, bin Laden is worth far more to al Qaeda as a dead martyr than in his current absentee role. It's possible bin Laden is so far underground that even al Qaeda's leadership doesn't know where he is.

Or he may have fled to Iran, in which case he could be a prisoner of the government there. Although I suspect they would allow him to issue video statements, they might want editorial control -- which could lead to a problematic standoff. It's important to note that bin Laden's son, Saad, and at least one other top al Qaeda lieutenant are believed to be under house arrest in Iran, so this line of thought isn't entirely fanciful.

Another possible explanation is that bin Laden has been pushed aside, perhaps forcefully, by Zawahiri -- who has been far less shy in recent months, apparently without incurring any disproportionate risk.

At any rate, the new video features a testimonial by a suicide attacker and new material from Adam Gadahn, aka Azzam the American. There is a message from Zawahiri that appears to be "new" (in the sense that it hasn't been seen before, but not in the sense that it can be dated to recent days or weeks), and a hodge-podge of footage culled from the news and other sources.

In terms of al Qaeda's marketing strategy, this is another letdown for the jihadi audience, which has been eagerly awaiting new material from bin Laden. It was a highly questionable decision to banner and promote this video so aggressively, while promising a "big surprise" that did not materialize (within the context of the video, that is). The core audience is bound to be getting frustrated with the recent series of letdowns. How that will play out in terms of their enthusiasm and motivation to act is not yet clear.

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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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