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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Charting Bin Laden's Death Among Arabic-Speaking Hardcore Jihadis Online

Here's the third, and for now, final, installment of jihadist forum analysis, this time focusing on the Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic-language forum. I'm putting up some raw data for the moment, and hopefully I will have some time to compile a more sophisticated thought or two on the analysis over the next few weeks. I welcome any analysis from readers in the meantime, tweet at me to discuss. Keep in mind this is raw data that could use another set of eyes, so allow for probably about a 5 percent margin of error.


  • Ansar English forum results
  • Hanein Arabic forum results

    Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic is a full-on jihadist forum, unlike the Hanein forum I looked at the the last installment. More on this in a bit. For now here are the results for the first four weeks after the death of Osama bin Laden.

    Predictably, Ansar users, consisting of hardcore jihadists ideologically aligned with Al Qaeda, were most concerned with the death of Osama bin Laden. There were 2104 threads created on Ansar during the sample period. Osama bin Laden was the main focus of 648 threads, with 231 devoted to Arab Spring developments, and four pertaining to Anwar Awlaki.

    As far as the weak Awlaki number, I wouldn't read too much into this without more data. For instance, most references to Zawahiri were either in the context of bin Laden's death or a new media release, and Awlaki didn't have any media out in May except for Inspire, which was duly noted. I'd like to examine this more over time and on a more normal month.

    The breakdown of Arab Spring countries looks like this:

    The country totals are:

    Algeria -- 6
    Bahrain -- 3
    Egypt -- 89
    Jordan -- 17
    Libya -- 12
    Morocco -- 21
    Multiple/general -- 21
    Syria -- 29
    Tunisia -- 13
    Unclear reference -- 2
    Yemen -- 10

    As I found in the Hanein forum, Syria was the second-most referenced Arab Spring country, which makes me think we need to see some more reporting about jihadist interest/influence there than what the mainstream media has provided so far. As with Hanein, and not surprisingly, Egypt was the clear winner as the country most referenced. But again, the comparison the Palestinian-issues yields a surprising result.

    There were 89 posts pertaining primarily to Egyptian political developments vs. only 84 posts about Palestinian issues, and many of the latter were largely content-free gestures attempting to tack bin Laden's death on to the Palestinian cause. The sample period included significant developments on Palestinian issues between majors speeches by Obama and Netanyahu as well as international movement toward recognizing a Palestinian state. So the fact that Egypt wins even among hardcore jihadists suggests to me that we might want to examine some of our precoceptions about the primacy of the Palestinian conflict in the hearts of jihadists. However, I caution that this is too preliminary and too small a sample to jump to any big conclusions.

    Ansar also featured more generalized discussions about the Arab Spring than the more nationalistic Hanein forum, mainly because jihadists are having trouble crafting an ideological response to recent developments. But for the overall focus, Hanein (which used to have a much more jihadist orientation) shows that the Arab Spring may indeed prove to be a significant threat to the jihadist movement. Consider the following chart which excludes the "other" category:

    Both Ansar and Hanein had roughly the same number of threads created during the sample period, 2104 versus 2315 respectively. So the strength of their conversations are pretty comparable. But the exodus of Hanein users in recent months from a primarily Salafist-jihadist orientation to more of what I guess you would call a militant-nationalist orientation is pretty striking.

    More on all of this soon.

    For more about how American jihadists use the Internet, buy J.M. Berger's new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, out now!

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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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