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Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

Al Qaeda publishes an English language magazine

cover.PNGMarc Ambinder reports at The Atlantic Al Qaeda is now publishing an English-language magazine.

As the U.S. struggles to manage its efforts to influence opinion about Al Qaeda abroad, Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has produced its first English-language propaganda magazine.

The table of contents teases an interview with the leader of AQAP who promises to "answer various questions pertaining to the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula."  It includes a feature about how to "make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom."
AQAP’s first effort to post the magazine to jihadist websites failed Wednesday, as many of the pages were contaminated with a virus. (I half seriously believe that U.S. cyber warriors might have had a hand in that little surprise.)
The US is quite worried about Al Qaeda’s new publishing ambitions, which mark a more sophisticated effort to engage the English-language world and to recruit English-speaking Muslims to join the cause.

This is a logical – and surprisingly overdue – next step by the largely information-savvy Al Qaeda. It will be interesting to see how the magazine is received, if and how Al Qaeda adapts to feedback, and ultimately if Al Qaeda can adhere to a regular publishing schedule.

Report: Al Qaida kills eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims

A recently released and unreported report from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has some fuel for the struggle of minds and wills. Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa’ida’s Violence Against Muslims (PDF, 875kb) is a survey of attacks carried out by Al Qaeda that should be part of a counter-narrative to Al Qaeda’s broadly accepted proposal that they are the champions of Muslims. For too long we have accepted the propaganda of the enemy, allowing him to set the time, place, and vocabulary, all to his advantage. He declared the war was between us and them and we agreed. It wasn’t and it isn’t.

From the report:

The results show that non‐Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al‐Qa’ida attack. From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western. During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further. From 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) are from the West, and the remaining 98% are inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities. During this period, a person of non‐Western origin was 54 times more likely to die in an al‐Qa’ida attack than an individual from the West. The overwhelming majority of al‐Qa’ida victims are Muslims living in Muslim countries, and many are citizens of Iraq, which suffered more al‐Qa’ida attacks than any other country courtesy of the al‐Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) affiliate.

It is interesting to note that the percentage of non‐Western victims increased in the more recent period at the same time that extremist scholars, pundits, and supporters are questioning the indiscriminate use of violence and the targeting of Muslims. Al‐Qa’ida leaders stress that these individuals are not formal members of the organization, but recognizes their legitimacy as scholars and intellectual contributions to the movement nonetheless.

It is a short and required read. Supporting data fills most of the report’s 56 pages. See Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa’ida’s Violence Against Muslims.

Al-Qaeda is not the only threat

John Sullivan, the co-founder of the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning group and lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, focusing on emerging threats, reminds us that Al-Qaeda is not the only threat. As such, public diplomacy and strategic communication planning that focuses only on Al-Qaeda is too limiting.

From Danger Room:

While the public and media are occupied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential conflict with Iran, the downward spiral in Pakistan, and a global economic meltdown, a new, rapidly-evolving danger — narco-cartels and gangs — has been developing in Mexico and Latin America. And it has the potential to trump global terrorism as a threat to the United States.

Read the rest at Danger Room and a longer article on Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency at Defense and the National Interest.

Ayman al-Zawahiri’s racial epithet

MountainRunner friend Spencer Ackerman nails it on Zawahiri’s use of "House Negro" in Al-Qaeda’s latest propaganda:

With an American president as loathed as George W. Bush around the world, it’s easy for Al Qaeda to portray the U.S. as venal and stupid and brutish as he’s proven. Obama complicates the narrative significantly: the very color of his skin, precisely what Al Qaeda mocks, symbolizes America’s willingness to change. That’s exactly what Al Qaeda fears most. …

Still, as Ilan Goldenberg notes at Democracy Arsenal, "Al Qaeda’s narrative is now under siege and it’s clearly uncertain about how to react." That sort of disruption is precisely what the U.S. needs to rapidly exploit. In both policy and public-diplomacy terms, the clay is still wet. Why haven’t we seen the State Dept.’s blog hit the Zawahiri "House Negro" tape yet?

I have all the respect for the DipNote staff, and America.gov for that matter, but they just don’t have the agility or flexibility to respond to this message. Of course the argument could be made that a response highlights the attack. But in this case, as with most, we know the message is being received and a reply like Spencer’s strikes at AQ’s vulnerability. AQ is losing the struggle for minds and wills and this very message highlights that they will grasp at anything to attempt to regain control of the narrative.

DipNote and America.gov should be one of the many platforms used to post accessible responses. Reposting the above is out of the question, but at a minimum a short response echoing or linking to Spencer is better than silence and would get traction. I can think of several @state.gov people that could bang out a credible response.

State’s foreign media hubs are one thing, but what about online? I’ll wager Defense has already started to respond to this the Zawahiri message on the Internet. State needs to respond both to U.S. audiences (ostensibly DipNote’s mission) and abroad (America.gov’s mission). Seriously, even China is implementing an agile response capability.

I don’t think we’ll see anything from DipNote or America.gov on this. It would be great to be wrong. Prove me wrong.

See also:

Event: New America Foundation conference on Al Qaeda 3.0 – with live webcast

The pace of “what’s next” conference is picking up. From the New America Foundation:

Al Qaeda 3.0
The ‘War on Terror’ After the Bush Administration
At Al Qaeda 3.0, leading policy makers, law enforcement officials, scholars and journalists from around the world will assess the current threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates to the United States, Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. The conference speakers will also explore what steps the next administration should take in combating al Qaeda and its affiliates both at home and abroad.

The event is tomorrow, Friday, October 10, 2008. Start: 8:45a ET, Finish: 5p ET.

The conference has an impressive list of panelists (bios): Frances Fragos Townsend, Bruce Hoffman, Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Lawrence Wright, Daniel Kimmage, Nir Rosen, Brian Fishman, Mohammed Hafex, Thomas Hegghammer, Marc Sageman (no, Bruce and Marc are not on the same panel), and others.

Register here.

Noteworthy

“The media policy for the Islamic State [of Iraq] is using exaggeration, to the extent of lying.” – one of a series of letters from Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s Number 2, to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). … “Mexico has the second-largest number citing the US government as the perpetrator of 9/11 (30%, after Turkey at 36%). Only 33 percent name al Qaeda.” Results from the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll on who was behind 9/11.

Hunting in East Africa

News brief from the StrategyPage on Counter-Terrorism Operations on the Horn / East Africa:

the leader of al Qaeda in East Africa, Harun Fazul (or Fazul Abdullah Mohammed), a native of the Comoro Island with dual citizenship in Kenya, is being hunted aggressively. One of the most wanted terrorists in the world (the US has put $5 million on his head), Fazul was a ringleader in the 1998 East African embassy bombings and other attacks in the region. In his early 30s, Fazul has been a member of al Qaeda since the early ’90s.