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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Inspire, Abu Talha and More...

A couple of short notes on recent buzz around the Web:


Coverage of AQAP's Inspire continues to disappoint, although it's improved since the full issue was posted. I continue to think this is not as much of a quantum leap forward as its reception might indicate. I suspect aspiring jihadists are more likely to burn down their moms' kitchens than create a successful bomb with the recipe provided in the magazine, and beyond that, there isn't much about Inspire that is groundbreaking.

The magazine's graphic design has been praised by various reporters and analysts. Personally, I found it rather busy and distracting, not to mention undercutting the alleged serious-mindedness of the content. One thing is certain -- all the rave reviews guarantee we'll be getting a second issue, which was far from certain given the fiasco around its release.


Inspire has also kicked off a minor flurry of attention for Awlaki including some retreads of the premise that has been kicking around for a while: Is Awlaki the new bin Laden?

The answer to that is pretty easy. "No."

First off, Awlaki's never seen actual combat, and frankly, I don't think he's the type. Bin Laden's military exploits may be greatly exaggerated, but they do, in fact, exist. Unless and until Awlaki gets out there with a machine gun, he's not likely to become the leader of what is essentially a military organization. He can be the spiritual head or a senior advisor, up to a point, but he's not blind, so he has no excuse for not fighting.

Secondly, while everyone generally agrees Awlaki has become "operational," there is no evidence he has a head for operational details or tactics. Bin Laden is quite the opposite. He understands the value of planning, and he has been hands-on supervisor for some of Al Qaeda's greatest triumphs. He notoriously pointed out the weak points in the U.S. embassy in Nairobi during the planning of the East African Embassy bombings. Awlaki, so far, has directed a college student to set his pants on fire.

Thirdly, he's American. Whether due to the local angle or unconscious bias, the fact of his American citizenship automatically causes the media to inflate his dangerousness.

Of course, I am not saying Awlaki isn't dangerous or important. He's both of those things. But we need to keep him in perspective.


Speaking of people whose status benefits from media coverage, the always engrossing Al Maktaba blog has an interview with Abu Talha Al Amriki, aka Zach Chesser. Turns out the heat from the South Park death threat has driven the American jihad supporter into radio silence, at least as far as using his own name. When reading, keep in mind that Abu Talha has advised pro-jihad Muslims only to talk to us "counterterrorism analysts" in order to "feed them outright lies."

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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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