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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inspire, Issue Six: Martyrs and Mixed Messages

"We apologize for the delay in the publication of the magazine," writes Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula correspondent Yahya Ibrahim in the opening line of the new issue of Inspire magazine. "Things have been quite hectic over here."

Indeed. The new Inspire reads like a hasty afterthought, no doubt due to the ongoing revolution in Yemen as well as the drone strikes which very nearly took out AQAP's American propagandist Anwar Awlaki.

Anwar Awlaki depicted as Rambo in new issue of InspireThe new issue of Inspire seeks to depict Awlaki as a prototypical action hero, strapped heavy and cracking wise about the strikes ("It looks as if someone was a bit angry with us this evening") before the bodies of the two men who died in his place had cooled. Unfortunately, the pictures meant to illustrate the scholar's toughness call to mind a child dressed up for Halloween. The man does not look at ease.

The issue notably lacks any content directly attributed to Awlaki, although the question-and-answer section clearly means to suggest that Awlaki is writing the answers. The questions this month were rather interesting in their broad focus. One question asked about whether the mujahideen supported the Shia semi-uprising in Bahrain (they don't), another asked about whether the niqab headcovering for women is "fard" (obligatory). What I take away from this section is that Inspire and/or Awlaki seek to be defined as broadly Islamic in focus rather than narrowly jihadist (although the latter is the obvious priority). If the questions were legitimately sent by readers, that also suggests that Inspire's readers are looking to Awlaki as an Islamic authority figure beyond his simple exhortations to terrorism.

The death of Osama bin Laden received a mixed treatment. Inspire's American editor, Samir Khan, wrote a fairly long piece on the subject. Another short piece on bin Laden ended with a half-hearted non-endorsement to the effect of "So we guess Zawahiri is taking over now."

Beyond bin Laden, Inspire's issue was death-themed with a series of martyr biographies. Notably lacking was a clear acknowledgement of or appreciation for the two men who were killed in Awlaki's place. Until now, martyr biographies have been notably understated in Inspire. Such content has a much higher profile in most other jihadist propaganda including the many magazines that preceded Inspire (I will have more on this soon). It's not clear to me whether this is an overdue corrective, or just an effort to give the issue a theme spinning off bin Laden's death.

In the how-to-be-a-terrorist section, Inspire wrapped up its series of tips for carrying out shooting sprees, then encouraged homegrown terrorists to start working on a very dangerous new bomb ingredient. Fortunately, the article is probably more dangerous to people trying to follow its directions than anyone else, but on sum, we'd probably all be happier if this information wasn't circulating.

For more about Inspire, check out J.M. Berger's new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

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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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