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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Awlaki: Finally One of the Cool Kids

American-born cleric Anwar Awlaki is the star of a new video release from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The release, which is in Arabic , represents a fundamental shift in status for Awlaki, who has not thus far attracted much of an audience among the Arabic-speaking jihadis online. This also marks the first time Awlaki has been featured in an official Al Qaeda-branded media event.

Awlaki's previous lectures, sermons and pronouncements have been in English. To my knowledge, they have not been translated or posted by the admins of the major Arabic-language jihad message boards. By way of comparison, media releases featuring American jihadists Adam Gadahn and Omar Hammami almost always get splashy banner ads and wide distribution.

Since openly embracing the dark side, Awlaki's following has consisted mostly of English-speaking jihadists, who have so far been the boy sidekicks of the global jihadist community. Holy asymmetric warfare, Batman!

Awlaki's recent activities clearly indicated how much he craved the approval of the real terrorists. His cultivation of Omar Mutallab was an effort to show he could get involved with terrorism on purpose (rather than by accident, as he characterized his interaction with Nidal Hassan). And his March declaration of obligatory jihad against the United States was a by-the-books emulation of Al Qaeda's theological talking points, the jihadist equivalent of trying on Dad's shoes.

So this Arabic release isn't just a matter of language, it's a matter of status. This video is Awlaki's worldwide premiere. He's been invited to join the ranks of the cool kids. Will they accept him? Will he get a giant banner at the top of the page, a sticky, or just a fleeting post in the AQAP section? Stay tuned for dtails...

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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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