Al Qaeda Propaganda Mag Continues to "Inspire" After Founder's Death
Friday, October 19, 2012 - 03:50 PM
Last Wednesday, Quazi Nafis, 21, was arrested in an FBI sting while trying to blow up the New York branch of the Federal Reserve Bank with what he thought was 1000 pounds of explosives.
According to the criminal complaint, Nafis told an FBI informant that he was an admirer of "the magazine starting with 'I'," which the informant understood to be Inspire magazine, a slick English-language online publication produced by Al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP). Before he set out, the would-be bomber gave his undercover FBI handlers a thumb drive containing an article he’d written for Inspire explaining his plans and motives:
All I had in my mind are how to destroy America . . . I came up to this conclusion that targeting America’s economy is most efficient way to draw the path of obliteration of America as well as the path of establishment of Khilapha.
In a phone interview, Jarret Brachman, author of Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice, described Nafis' path from consumer of violent Islamist propaganda to real (if somewhat inept) participant. “Inspire lowers the barrier to entry for fence-sitters,” said Brachman, “You can only read so much before you start thinking ‘I can do this.’”
The magazine was founded in 2010 by Saudi-born Pakistani-American Samir Kahn. Its first issue declares the publication is “geared towards making the Muslim a mujāhid [roughly ‘soldier’] in Allāh’s path.” It features colorful graphics, messages from Al-Qaeda higher-ups, and practical, illustrated how-to guides for carrying out terrorist attacks. Kahn published an editorial in the first issue declaring “I am Proud to be a Traitor to America.”
Kahn was killed in September 2011 in a US drone strike along with his mentor, American-born AQAP organizer and propagandist Anwar Al-Alawki. In the aftermath, Brachman appeared on OTM and described their deaths as “devastating” for Al-Qaeda:
A year later, despite Nafis' attempted attack on the Fed, Brachman reiterates that basic assessment. He says that no unifying figures have arisen to replace the two men, and that issues 8 and 9 of Inspire, which came out together last May, were probably already in the pipeline. The English-language propaganda has largely gone quiet. There’s a lively discussion happening in Arabic, he says, but it isn't being translated.
But Brachman also reiterates that the damage is in many ways already done. The back issues of Inspire are still out there, as are the various community forums and social networks. Brachman describes the state of the online-militant ecosystem as “a buffet, a smorgasbord. You pick and choose your sheiks. It’s all out there.”
Nafis hails from Bangledesh and is thus not a 'home-grown terrorist.' He was radicalized at home and came to the U.S. on a student visa with the express purpose of launching an attack. Brachman explains that non-Arab Muslim wanna-be militants in South Asia, like those in the West, are drawn to publications like Inspire because they can’t participate in what is predominantly an Arabic-language discussion.
His attack, of course, was thwarted before it began. “We’re lucky that most of these guys who have tried to go operational are buffoons,” says Brachman. Nafis was caught because he was, in the author’s words, a “blustery loudmouth over-performing the role.” Brachman added that this is often part of the process of actually taking up arms: the would-be attackers try to convince themselves of their seriousness.
Brachman’s main insight is that Inspire and similar publications play a crucial role in shepherding would-be terrorists psychologically and socially. In joining and participating in these online communities, young conservative Muslims gradually drift further down the path to Al-Qaeda and murderous violence. In this way, even in death, AQAP’s chief English-language communicators and their slick propaganda continue to stir up Muslim youth and threaten populations in the West.