Terror 2.0: Fighting the PR war

User-friendly articles inspire in al Qaeda’s new magazine.

Think Osama bin Laden was media-savvy? Just look at Anwar al-Awlaki. The 40-year-old imam wears traditional Muslim garb; but unlike bin Laden, he’s fluent in English. And in his YouTube sermons, he effortlessly mixes Islamic doctrine with colloquial references to U.S. pop culture.

In fact, al-Awlaki is American. Born in New Mexico, he attended college in Colorado, received a master’s degree in California and started doctoral studies in Washington, DC. He’s also the public face of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s most powerful franchise. His sermons on everything from marriage to paradise get up to 100,000 views. (Typical comment: “This Sheikh is awesome!!!”) Thanks to his success on YouTube, al-Awlaki is now considered a top candidate to be al Qaeda’s next leader.

“Al-Awlaki is a paradox,” notes Dr. Sajjan Gohel, international security director at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London think tank. “He was arrested twice in the United States for soliciting prostitutes, but he has developed a reputation as bin Laden’s successor. He’s dangerous because he understands the Western mindset and is skilled at using modern media.”

Welcome to al Qaeda 2.0. AQAP and other jihadist groups now create videos and online chat rooms; they make sleek media productions on the Internet. Last year, for example, AQAP launched Inspire, a glossy English-language publication. The online magazine features catchy headlines, lots of photos, quotes by American celebrities and articles such as “Mujaheddin for beginners” and “Make a bomb in your mom’s kitchen.” It’s edited by Samir Khan, a young former New Yorker.

“He’s a very smooth, irreverent young guy, and a good graphic designer,” notes Scott Stewart, a vice president at intelligence firm Stratfor who worked on the investigation of al Qaeda’s 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 Americans. “The new al Qaeda is trying to reach younger people by appearing cool and hip.”

Earlier this year, AQAP launched Shamikha, an online magazine for women. Its niche: beauty tips mixed with articles with titles like: “How to marry a jihadist.”

Al Qaeda’s new generation of leaders have also studied Jack Welch-style management techniques.

“They’ve built up an impressive archive of self-studies and strategic analysis reports, available on jihadist Web forums, where members offer and advise on how to improve the terror organization’s success,” notes James Forest, former director of terrorism studies at the United States Military Academy. “Their much-used book, ‘Management of Savagery,’ argues that future al Qaeda leaders must correct organizational problems and create better propaganda.”

The new Afghanistan

YEMEN – Since 2004, when the U.K. expelled him, Anwar al-Awlaki has lived in Yemen. That’s where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is based.

“AQAP has eclipsed the core al Qaeda,” says Dr. Sajjan Gohel of the the Asia-Pacific Foundation. “Today the core al Qaeda is an Egyptian-Libyan group with power struggles. Their finances are drying up and the U.S. has slowly been killing off its leaders. AQAP doesn’t have that problem.”

AQAP’s mostly Yemeni and Saudi members and can operate freely in Yemen, which has replaced Afghanistan as a terrorist haven. “Terrorism is very cheap and easy when you’re based in Yemen,” says Scott Stewart, a former CIA investigator. 


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

NHL

Rangers' speed versus Flyers' size makes interesting playoff…

Among the myriad aspects that will make this Metropolitan Division semifinal series fascinating will be the battle between the Rangers' speed and the Flyers' size,…

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.