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Friday, February 4, 2011

Mapping Awlaki's Current Social Network And Influence On Radical Actors

Click on image for full-size picture.

The image above is a map of Anwar Awlaki's current social and inspirational connections to terrorism, an effort to illustrate some of his reach and influence. For a map of Awlaki's connections to the September 11 plot and Al Qaeda, click here.

The blue figures on the left are terrorism suspects who have been explicitly inspired by Awlaki to a greater or lesser extent. The data about "inspiration" is incomplete, but all of the people linked here were followers of Awlaki's work to a greater or lesser extent. I've only included the best-documented cases here, so this list is only a sampling of Awlaki's influence on radical actors.

The green figures are so-called "lone wolves" who were in direct contact with Awlaki and in some cases taking explicit instructions from him.

Figures in red are Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula members to whom Awlaki has been clearly attached. Abu Basir al-Wuhayshi, AQAP's emir, has pledged to revenge Awlaki's death should the United States succeed in its stated intention to kill the Yemeni-American cleric.

Samir Khan is the editor of AQAP's Inspire Magazine, in which position he closely works with Awlaki. Omar Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day attempted bomber who set his underwear on fire in 2009, is listed here as part of AQAP because he was trained and equipped by them and was specifically directed by Awlaki. His bomb was designed by AQAP explosives expert Ibrahim al-Asiri, who also apparently designed the UPS cargo bombs deployed by AQAP in 2010, a plot which appears to have been tightly linked to Awlaki.

As you can see, Awlaki's disciples are largely independent from each other, although there is some measurable interconnection among various individuals, sometimes one or two people removed. One of Awlaki's strengths is that he can direct attacks through both organizational and "lone wolf" approaches.

So he's dangerously unpredictable, but on the bright side, he hasn't shown a real aptitude for planning terrorist attacks as of yet. Most attacks associated with him have been failures. His biggest success, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, received indoctrination from Awlaki that almost certainly contributed to his radicalization, but the best reports we have to date indicate Awlaki did not make any tactical/operation contribution to Hasan's attack.

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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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