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Monday, November 8, 2010

New Awlaki Video Released, But Not By Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Updated 11/9/2010

Anwar Awlaki has released the full version of a video that was previewed online last week. The new release raises a number of questions with no immediately obvious answers.

The new video is entirely in Arabic, without English subtitles, and was not released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Everything we've heard from Awlaki over the last couple of months has come from AQAP, so this is a very curious development, the meaning of which is not yet clear.

Despite the lack of official branding, the video received massive play on the Al Shamikh forum -- with a bigger banner ad than Osama bin Laden's recent audio release. Al Shamikh is an Arabic forum.

The video is a wide-ranging assault on the political and religious establishments of the Muslim world in general and Yemen in particular, according to a translation by Flashpoint Partners. In addition to the usual calls to kill Americans, Awlaki makes a particularly pointed attack on Islamic scholars who support the status quo or offer any kind of ideological cover to those who would ally with the West against the mujahideen.

Until recently, there was little evidence to suggest that Awlaki had made much of an impression on the Arabic-speaking jihadist community. It's possible that this means he has finally broken through. However, it's also worth noting that bin Laden's release came with several different sizes and shapes of banner ad, while Awlaki's patron on Al Shamikh submitted only one massive banner. So while this might just be a case of smart marketing, I suspect it represents a real breakthrough.

Other notes:

* The video is already available on YouTube. So much for that crackdown.

* The person who posted the video to jihadist forums, "Terrorist 093," asked jihadist forum members to voluntarily translate the video into English and post their results. This is also unusual, since Awlaki could have easily translated it himself or tasked the job to one of his lackeys at "Inspire," AQAP's English-language magazine.

* Aaron Zelin at Jihadology has some interesting notes on the title of the video, "To make it known and clear to mankind, and not to hide it," a quote from the Quran.

* The video was released in as a regular file but also in a massive 1.6 gig HQ version, which is also odd because the video is not in the standard 16x9 aspect ration used for HD. What I suspect this means is that no one from AQAP worked on it. I've speculated in the past that American Al Qaeda Samir Khan has been producing AQAP's videos, and Khan is closely aligned to Awlaki, so add that to the list of questions. (I'm stringing together a lot of guesses here, so caveat emptor.)

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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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