Ahead of 9/11, Terrorists Publish Competing Propaganda

4 MINS READSep 10, 2015 | 18:07 GMT
Terrorists Push Propaganda Ahead of the 9/11 Anniversary
(Inspire Magazine)
The cover of the 14th edition of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine.

This week the pre-9/11 anniversary rush to publish terrorist propaganda kicked into high gear. On Sept. 8, the al Qaeda core's As-Sahab media arm released an audio message from Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he viciously disparaged Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State. The Islamic State responded in kind on Sept. 9 when its Al-Hayat Media Center released the 11th edition of the English-language Dabiq magazine. The magazine's Forward section contained a scathing assault on the Taliban and al Qaeda, calling the cover-up of Mullah Omar's death an unprecedented hoax. The exchange again accentuated the differences between al Qaeda and the Islamic State and emphasized the difficulty the two groups would have reconciling.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Al-Malahim media also released the 14th edition of Inspire magazine on Sept. 9. The faction was much more veiled in its criticism of the Islamic State in Inspire, but to a discerning reader the broadside was readily apparent. The latest Inspire magazine also showed the dramatic difference between al Qaeda's and the Islamic State's attack philosophies. For example, the group again bragged about its involvement in the January Charlie Hebdo attack and threatened additional attacks against people who insult the Prophet Mohammed. Accompanying the threat was a photo of Geert Wilders circled in red. Wilders is a controversial Dutch lawmaker with a long history of involvement in events critical of Islam and was the keynote speaker at an event in Garland, Texas, that was the target of an unsuccessful grassroots jihadist attack in May. The group also taunted former Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Renald Luzier, as well as Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.

One of the chief differences between the Islamic State's Dabiq and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire is that Dabiq magazine emphasizes the importance of Muslims leaving the West and immigrating to the Islamic State's territory, while Inspire magazine is all about radicalizing jihadists in the West. Inspire equips its audience to conduct leaderless resistance terrorist attacks where they live. Inspire does this through a section in every issue called Open Source Jihad. Past Open Source Jihad sections have contained instructions for constructing improvised explosive devices. The Boston Marathon bombers used these instructions to construct the pressure cooker bombs they employed in their attack. This edition contains instructions for constructing "hand grenades," which are really just crude electrically actuated pipe bombs. (The Boston Marathon bombers actually threw similar pipe bombs, which they also found instructions for in Inspire, at the police during a high-speed chase in Watertown, Massachusetts.)

This Inspire magazine's theme was assassination operations. It contained an article by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's high-profile bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri, who provided a tactical analysis of the Charlie Hebdo attack (which he called an assassination), discussing the process the attackers followed and highlighting what they did correctly.

This edition's Open Source Jihad section also provided step-by-step instructions for conducting an assassination attack. This was significant in that it highlighted what Stratfor has written about how even grassroots jihadists need to follow the terrorist attack cycle. Reading the Open Source Jihad assassination planning section with the attack cycle in mind clearly shows the author instructing the would-be assassin to follow each step of the cycle. 

This also reinforces the fact that grassroots jihadists are vulnerable to detection during various steps of the attack cycle. The Open Source Jihad author admonishes grassroots operatives to practice their pre-operational surveillance "carefully and from a distance so as not to alert the target. He should blend-in with the environment or camouflage himself during the process." But this is much easier said than done. It is one thing to read about practicing good surveillance tradecraft; it is quite another to do it.

Finally, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is clearly attempting to divert grassroots jihadists away from police and security targets that the Islamic State has been urging its followers to strike. Instead, it urges attacks against economic targets, including "economic personalities" such as former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and wealthy entrepreneurs and company owners such as Bill Gates. Inspire's 13th issue had also urged attacks against this class of targets and contained photos of Bernanke and Gates, but this edition expands on that list and provides photos of several other figures. The magazine contained a grisly photo of a blood-covered pistol sitting on blood-covered photos of several high-profile business leaders that will surely catch the attention of executive protection teams protecting corporate and financial figures.  

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