MSA Intel


On May 2nd, the eighth and ninth editions of the infamous English-language magazine Inspire, published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), emerged on jihadist forums.  The fate of the magazine was unknown following the deaths of Anwar al-Awlaki and Inspire’s editor Samir Khan in September of 2011.  While the 8th version appears to have been written prior to their deaths, the publication of the 9th edition signifies AQAP’s ability to produce the motivational and tactical guide for their English-speaking, Western audience in their absence.  The following highlights the MSA Intel Team’s initial review and key points.

Common Themes

  • The overall purpose of the magazine is to inspire Western individuals to engage in jihad.  These editions include the recurring theme of the Inspire series which is the guidance to conduct attacks against Western interests wherever the operative lives. 
  • In keeping with tradition of the magazine, each issue provides AQAP’s targeting preferences. 
    • In each of the new issues, the US, UK and France are listed as priority targets. 
    • We continue to see an emphasis on softer targets including commercial buildings, sports arenas, transportation systems, religious institutions, and tourist spots. 
    • They also continue to stress the importance of attacking Western economic and military targets. 
  • Like several past editions, each of the latest versions portrays an image of New York City. 
    • The 8th edition includes an image of a busy street corner which we have identified as 50th Street and 5th Avenue (Saks Fifth Avenue). 
    • The 9th issue offers an aerial view of Central Park and its surroundings.

Eighth Edition:  “Targeting Dar al-Harb Populations”

This version of Inspire begins exactly where the last edition left off as AQAP had promised an article from Anwar al-Awlaki himself.  The most pointed question to Awlaki by Inspire readers was the legality of targeting civilians (non-combatants) in countries at war with the Muslims (dar al-harb). Subsequently, Awlaki addresses their concerns in the cover story by utilizing excerpts from the Koran and hadiths.  He attempts to justify his claims that in most circumstances, Allah would allow for the killing of civilians.  This is an attempt to appeal to the Western Islamic youth through religious means. 

This is the first time that we have seen Awlaki make the distinction between combatants and non-combatants (women and children) at such length.  According to Awlaki, all combatants can be targeted, but women and children should not be singled out for killing.  Killing is permissible if they are mixed in with the combatants and therefore indistinguishable.  To support this, he explains how Muhammad allowed for “bayat,” during which an enemy would be attacked at night when the darkness prevented a clear vision of the victims.  He asks how this is any different from detonating a bomb in a crowded space where men, women and children essentially blend together.  For the most part, his thesis is aligned with the arguments that all infidels are the enemy and therefore should be targeted by jihad.

Other notable components:

  • The “Open Source Jihad” section features the “Training with a Handgun” series.  This is a direct follow-up to the previous “Training with an AK” series that was included in the 4th, 5th and 6th issues of Inspire.  For the handgun series and basic training, AQAP focuses on the Russian Makarov.  The series includes how to open the gun, how to hold it properly and “employing the stances.”  This highlights the increasing preference of small arms tactics.
  • The first edition of Inspire featured the article “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom,” which instructed readers how to build a timed explosive device using a clock.  In this edition, the tactical section includes an article which provides instruction on how to configure a device that can be remotely detonated.  According to the writers, remote detonation gives the operative the advantage of getting as far away as possible from the device while also allowing the operative to be aware of what is happening on the ground.  With this knowledge, the operative can decide whether there is a need for an immediate or delayed explosion.
  • Included in Awlaki’s article are tactics similar to what has been included in previous editions.  He lists several “modes of operation that would be allowed” against civilians.  These tactics include small arms, explosives, poisons or chemical and biological weapons against population centers.  In particular, he says that the US, Britain and France should be targeted by explosives, firearms, poisons and “all other methods that lead to inflicting the greatest harm on them.”
    • Awlaki makes a specific mention of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks and how the use of firearms in such operations is allowed against the general public.  Going forward, we see a shift in the operational capability of terrorists which focuses on combined tactics; small arms in conjunction with explosives.

Ninth Edition:  “Winning on the Ground”

In part, the 9th edition reads like a eulogy for Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.  This is in line with what we saw in the 6th edition of Inspire following the death of Osama bin Laden released in July of 2011.  This edition appeals to the more emotional level of its followers. 

There is also a more boastful tone to this edition as the publishers point out their ability to continue to produce the magazine even after the deaths of Awlaki and Khan.  One article says that while “[Awlaki] was the spirit of Inspire where Samir was its tongue,” their deaths will only help to spread their message.  There is a noticeable difference in the quality of the graphics and writing in this latest edition of Inspire; however the typical rhetoric continues within the content.

Other notable components:

  • This version highlights the critical role of operational security in planning and executing terrorist activity.  There is a strong emphasis on lone-wolf operations to limit the opportunity for law enforcement interdiction.  Small group plots are only advised if the individual completely trusts his associates.  A similar message was provided in the 5th issue of Inspire released in March of 2011.  Additionally, operatives are advised to conduct attacks wherever they live or can live normally without raising suspicion.
  • The 9th edition appears to have the most imagery of guns than any other Inspire publication.  One of the more notable images is pictured to the right, which is a play on President Obama’s famous slogan “Yes We Can.”  This again supports our analysis that small arms continue to be a preferred method of attack.
  • The “Open Source Jihad” section includes the characteristics of an “effective urbanite assassin.  These characteristics include the ability to select the right targets and blend into the society and culture of the targets.  The contents of the article border an image of an average businessman walking on the street holding a briefcase.
  • Also included in the tactical section is the idea of producing firebombs to target populations within the US.  The “AQ Chef” appears to be inspired by natural wildfires that have been the cause of massive destruction.  He cites examples within the US and Australia and how wildfires have damaged homes and impacted lives.  The article outlines instructions on how to build a device that would have a “similar destructive impact.”

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