Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has released a special edition of their English-language propaganda magazine Inspire, titled “The Greatest Special Operation of All Time,” referring to the 9/11 attacks. The latest issue praises the attacks by featuring multiple images of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon supported by articles which make the case that the al Qaeda ideology remains prevalent 10 years after the attacks. They claim that the effects of the 9/11 attacks and subsequent actions by terrorist groups against the West are “bleeding America dry.” It continues the common theme that the War on Terror is really what they call the Western war against Muslims. While there has been much analysis on the terrorism landscape after 9/11, AQAP uses this special issue of Inspire to provide their own analysis of the effects of 9/11 10 years after the attacks.
This special issue lacks any sort of tactical or operational guidance featured in past editions, namely the “Open Source Jihad” section, and is mainly focused on what they refer to as the demise of America. However, the purpose of the magazine is always to “inspire” Western individuals to engage in jihad. This edition specifically mentions successes of the last decade (including the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the 2005 London Transit Bombings, and the 2004 Madrid Train Bombings) which seem to be used as a means to motivate readers to follow in their footsteps. So while the tactical component may be missing from this issue, it is still a propaganda tool which may act as a call to action to its readers.
The cover story, “The Greatest Special Operation of All Time,” is written by Inspire’s Editor in Chief Yahya Ibrahim. The article argues how America has become weaker and the mujahidin have become stronger 10 years after 9/11. First, he says, the attacks of 9/11 claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people while the operation itself was carried out by just 13 individuals. He claims that the war in Afghanistan, which was in direct response to 9/11, and the following invasion of Iraq might be “the single most important factors in the downfall of the United States of America.” This is due to not only the loss of lives, but also the high cost of $4 to 6 trillion dollars spent thus far on the wars, as quoted by a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. As a significant portion of the costs has been borrowed money, Ibrahim says the damage from both wars will “carry on as long as America is in debt.”
Ibrahim further states that the actions taken by the US at the prisons in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the enactment of the US Patriot Act convey how the US is against the rights of Muslims: “The limits placed on the rights of Muslims to express their beliefs revealed that in the West you are only free if you are not a Muslim.” Finally, he says that the “inconveniences and forced changes” in America after the 9/11 attacks has economically hurt the West. He cites how the US has increased its spending towards heightened security measures, namely at airports following the attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing and the 2010 Cargo Bomb Plot which were both backed by AQAP. All the while, he says, the mujahidin has been spreading “from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, [and] North Africa” throughout the last decade and that, “God willing the list will grow and the proliferation of jihad will continue.”
The images used in past issues of Inspire have always garnered attention and analysis, but the images featured in this special edition are particularly interesting.
“A Decade in Pictures: From 9/11 Till Today”
An entire section dedicated to images, titled “A Decade in Pictures: From 9/11 Till Today,” includes pictures of the 9/11 attacks leading all the way up to the recent Arab Spring, and everything that has happened in between. Along with each image, AQAP provides a quote regarding the image’s subject which include: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the issue of waterboarding; the 2004 Madrid Train Bombings; the 2005 London Transit Bombings; the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad; the 2009 Fort Hood Shooting; the attempted Christmas Day Bombing in 2009; the 2010 Cargo Bomb Plot; and the attempted Times Square bombing in May of 2010. The items they have chosen along with the quotes supplementing each picture are used to show what AQAP interprets as meaningful successes for the overall jihadist movement in the last decade. This is different than our interpretation, as we see the Christmas Day and Times Square bombing attempts as fortunate failures which they are trying to portray to their advantage.
Article from Anwar al-Awlaki Coming Soon
Towards the very end of the issue is an image of Grand Central Terminal which says that an article, titled “Targeting the Populations of Countries that are at War with the Muslims,” written by Anwar al-Awlaki is coming soon. It is interesting to note the choice to use a picture of Grand Central, which not only shows the significance placed on New York City as a target, but also on the transportation sector. We have seen multiple plots targeting the transportation sector, including the 2009 NYC subway bomb plot organized by a US legal permanent resident named Najibullah Zazi, as well as successful attacks against trains and/or buses in Madrid and London. The title of the article shows that the next issue of Inspire may revert back to providing tactical and operational advice to its readers. Judging solely by the picture, this particular article “coming soon” from al-Awlaki could potentially emphasize attacks on transportation hubs in Western countries.
As you may recall from our previous briefs on Inspire, AQAP has been promising an interview with Anwar al-Awlaki to be featured in the magazine. The last two issues, released in March and July respectively, have mentioned this, but it has not yet come to fruition. The US has been targeting key al Qaeda leaders with drone strikes and given his prominence, al-Awlaki has been targeted. He was narrowly missed in May this year. His lack of visibility in the latest issues or elsewhere on the Internet may signal that he is in hiding at this point.
The US has been seeing multiple successes in recent months with the targeting and killing of key al Qaeda personnel, including the former leader Osama bin Laden this past May. Each death has acted as a significant blow to the overall al Qaeda network. It has also been 10 years since a significant successful attack on the US homeland. This is not to say that the threat of terrorism itself is diminishing as we have seen the regional al Qaeda affiliates gaining strength and operational capability. However, this edition of Inspire clearly attempts to make the case that 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, the US is the one who is weakened, not the al Qaeda effort or ideology.