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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Online Jihadist Who Threatened Sweden Seen On New Majahden English Forum; Some Thoughts on Awlaki's Appeal

Al Majahden's new English-language forum rolled out last week, and so far, it's nothing special. Thus far, the forum's public areas feature numerous "how-to" pieces on bomb-building, online security and firearms, but none of this material rises above the low-hanging fruit of the open-source universe.

There are also several old videos from Al Qaeda and the forum's 80-some users (as of Wednesday night) have posted and commented on a number of fairly predictable news items and comments on their interpretations of Islamic law. Very few of the members have posted much of anything, let along anything of interest. Overall, the effort scans as pretty amateur.

One apparent celebrity has signed up, however. One user of the new forum uses the handle Abu Suleiman al-Nasser. A poster on the Al Shamikh (Shumukh)forum by the same name was responsible for posting several prominent threats in the name of Al Qaeda after the Stockholm suicide bombing in December. Al-Nasser's postings on the Sweden attack were notable for including details about the bomber before they were widely reported in the media.

In addition the material listed above, there's a section devoted to the lectures of Anwar Awlaki, which currently includes only one post. What's interesting here is that the posted lecture is one of Awlaki's older works on the lives of the prophets of Islam. Not his declaration of jihad against the U.S., not his interview with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but one of his inspirational, non-jihadist works.

Awlaki's appeal -- and a big part of the danger he presents -- is that he boasts a body of work which is overwhelmingly mainstream. A very large number of English-speaking Muslims loved his work before he openly embraced jihadism, and many still do. Awlaki has more to offer his audiences than politics and war, as opposed to someone like Aymwan Al-Zawahiri, whose work is single-minded.

There is a significant but fairly small demographic interested in nothing-but-violence. There is a much larger demographic interested in inspirational stories about the history of Islam, which are Awlaki's specialty. Some of those stories are simply what they appear to be. Others are laced with precursors to jihadist ideology. Awlaki is no Osama bin Laden, but he casts a wider net.

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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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