Inspire: Purpose

“Our intent is to give the most accurate presentation of Islam as followed by the Salaf as-Sálih”[1]

Inspire magazine is the central mouthpiece of AQAP’s online propagation to an English speaking audience, particularly now YouTube, under pressure from the American and British governments, have banned the videos of Anwar al-Awlaki in November 2010.[2] The first issue appeared in July 2010 and they have appeared regularly since then. At the time of writing there are nine editions, the last appearing in June 2012. Its success depends on its ability to reach as many potential recruits as possible and al-Suri claims within Inspire that “spreading the legal, political, military and other sciences and knowledge that the mujahidun need”[3] is imperative to success. Inspire represents two developments in the relationship between the media and terrorist within the last decade or two, or more precisely since the advent of the internet. Terror groups utilise the media for three purposes. These are to “legitimate the movement, propagate the group’s message and intimidate opponents.”[4] Page has claimed that al-Qaeda is the “first guerrilla movement in history to migrate from physical space to cyberspace.”[5] Inspire is not the first online magazine that al-Qaeda has produced, it is however the first published in English. AQAP since 2008 has produced an Arabic magazine entitled Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Epic Battles). This magazine highlights the main reason that AQAP has turned to the internet in its first editorial telling its readers

“Given the media blackout around the truths and victories of the mujahidin, the distortion of their reputation, and twisting concepts to show the violating invader of Muslim sanctuaries as a man of peace and his troops as security and peacekeeping forces…we rolled up our sleeves and combined our efforts to uncover the facts and truths [in order to] expose the enemies to the public.”[6]

The mainstream media presents a wholly negative view of al-Qaeda, what al-Qaeda call here a ‘distortion’ of their reputation and successes. This has destroyed the previous symbiotic relationship of the media and terrorist entities, whereby printing terrorist actions the media provided a sense of legitimacy. Within Inspire AQAP offer a reason for why this has occurred as “the current media [is] under the control of the Jews.”[7] With al-Qaeda widely condemned in the media in the west, but also by the serialisations of Dr. Fadl’s latest works in Pakistani and Bahraini newspapers, this symbiotic relationship has been lost. In addition to the rise of the internet and the unreliability of existing media outlets, this increased media effort by al-Qaeda can be seen as part of al-Qaeda’s “maturation as a terrorist organisation seeking to capitalise on its newly-founded brand recognition.”[8]

This brand recognition means al-Qaeda can now frame its actions in its own words by using the internet, bypassing the negativity of uncontrollable media outlets. This importance of the media is explored within in an article in edition seven of Inspire by Samir Kahn, an American who helped create Inspire. Titled ‘The Media Conflict’ the preamble to the article specifies the importance of the media to al-Qaeda.

“I remember his advice being spot-on as I stood there nearly two years ago in front of AQAP’s Amir, Shaykh Abu Basir, may Allah preserve him. ‘Remember,’ he said as other mujahidin were busy working on their computers in the background. ‘The media work is half of the jihad.’”[9]

The media clearly is important in al-Qaeda’s war on the west and Samir Kahn is sure that “a powerful media production is as hard hitting as an operation in America.”[10] In addition al-Qaeda can directly attack western representations of their actions. An example of this can be seen in the second edition of Inspire in the ‘Hear the World’ recurring feature. This feature lists “a collection of quotes from friends and foe.”[11] A quote from Barak Obama is one of the featured quotes. In a news conference it is claimed that he “ignores fact US has killed over a million Muslims in Iraq.”[12] Obama is quoted as saying “Our enemies are al-Qaeda…[who] have killed more Muslims than just about anybody on earth.”[13] This is claimed to be “just ridiculous.” The ‘lies’ and ‘deceit’ of the west is supported further in the next recurring feature ‘News Flash’ only two pages later. The FBI deleted the first edition of Inspire from certain websites, which is highlighted in the News Flash section. The editor of Inspire asks “Why are they so scared?”[14] These examples show how AQAP are using the magazine to discredit western representations of al-Qaeda.

“And Inspire the Believers to fight”

Inspire has one overarching purpose, that presents itself in myriad fashions. This purpose is rooted in Islamic tradition. Da’wah is an Islamic tradition from the time of Muhammed which literally means ‘making an invitation.’ The invitation is to Islam and AQAP utilising Inspire to this end. In the first editorial this is made clear when it is claimed that “our intent is to give the most accurate presentation of Islam…It is our intent for this magazine to be a platform to present the important issues facing the ummah today to the wide and dispersed English Speaking Muslim readership.”[15] Through Inspire, AQAP is clearly calling Muslims in English Speaking countries to their ‘most accurate presentation of Islam.’ The ‘accurate presentation of Islam’ that AQAP are calling its target audience to has jihad at its centre. This is clear throughout the magazines, but comes to the fore in an article in the second edition titled ‘O Hesitant One: It’s an Obligation’ and also in the Editorial of the ninth edition. The article in the second edition tells its reader it “is a brief letter of motivation to jihad.”[16] The reader is told that all mujahidin go through periods of indecision and that AQAP will continue to target their recruitment “even if it means having to preoccupy ourselves entirely with you instead of our enemies, we will preoccupy ourselves with you until you join us.”[17] In the Editorial of the ninth edition it is claimed that one of the purposes of Inspire is “to call for and inspire jihad in the English speaking world.”[18]

This communication with its target audience does not only go one way, the readership of Inspire is encouraged to communicate with the magazine. Every edition of the magazine has a page toward the end titled ‘How to Communicate With Us.’ Readers are encouraged to contribute “with any skills – be it writing, research, editing or advice – or have any questions…contact us at any of the email addresses.”[19] The first contribution of the readership comes in the second edition of Inspire from ‘Shaykh Ibrahim al-Banna’ who Inspire tells the reader is an ‘al-Azhar graduate.’ This demonstrates the importance of Islamic education to al-Qaeda, al-Azhar being one of the key universities of Islamic teaching in Egypt. Specifying that Ibrahim al-Banna is a graduate of al-Azhar thus gives his article legitimacy, but is still presented as a contribution from the magazines readership. This interaction comes to fore to a greater extent in the Fifth Edition of Inspire in another recurring feature titled ‘Inspire Responses.’ In this feature, AQAP respond to questions from Inspire readers. Both questions and criticisms are answered in this section, with the first ever response being to an email that criticised Inspire magazine. The response has three bones of contention with Inspire. Firstly it questions why Inspire distorts the news of the west. It asks if “your hatred for the West potentially clouded your judgement in reporting?”[20] It also asks if it is a contradiction on the part of AQAP to use western advances of the internet and a western medium of a magazine. It lastly asks how AQAP “accounts for the fact that your legitimacy within the Islamic community is not only called into question but nearly non-existent?”[21] The response printed claims that the west who distorts the news and that Obama is against Muslims. Secondly, using western technological advances is not a contradiction, AQAP “only hate the west for their foreign policies” not for their technology. To the last criticism that al-Qaeda has no legitimacy within the Islamic community, the response is in line with the wider theme of Da’wah. AQAP claim they are aiming to bring al-Qaeda’s vision to others therefore those who criticise al-Qaeda do not fully understand al-Qaeda.[22] This interaction shows AQAP value their readerships opinion and welcome further interaction.

The second question that is responded to in Edition Two highlights what Inspire is calling western Muslims to do. The questioner asks how he should go about joining the fronts of jihad in Afghanistan or Yemen. The answer is that there should be a “focus on planning out attacks in the West.”[23] Inspire looks to encourage its readership to attack within their own, Western localities. The formulation of this Individual jihad, is compiled in a serialisation of the work of Abu Mus’ab al-Suri.

[1] Yahya Ibrahim., ‘Letter from Editor’ in Inspire Edition One, p.2

[2]Lebovich, Andrew., ‘The LWOT: Awlaki videos banned from YouTube, in Theory; More arrests made for supporting al-Shabaab,’ in Foreign Policy, November 5th, 2010

[3] Inspire, Edition Six p.15

[4] Page, Michael., Challita, Lara and Harris, Alistair., ‘Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: Framing Narratives and Prescriptions,’ in Terrorism and Political Violence, 23:2 p.150

[5] Ibid, p.151

[6] Op Cit., Ibid,

[7]Inspire, Edition Four, p.10

[8] Braniff, Bill and Moghadau, Assaf., ‘Toward Global Jihadism: Al-Qaeda’s Strategic, Ideological and Structural Adaptations Since 9/11’ in Perspectives on Terrorism, 5:2 (May 2011) p.38

[9] Inspire, Edition Seven, p.8

[10] Ibid, p.9

[11] Inspire, Edition Two, p.5

[12] Ibid,

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid, p.7

[15] Inspire, Edition One, p.2

[16] Inspire, Edition Two, p.65

[17] Ibid,

[18] Inspire, Edition Nine, p.4

[19] Inspire, all Editions

[20] Inspire, Edition Five, p.9

[21] Ibid,

[22] Ibid, pp.9-10

[23] Ibid, p.11


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Al-Qaeda’s Arab Spring

In the Fifth Edition of its English-language online magazine released in March 2011 al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula decided to discuss the Arab Spring. The main areas of discussion were the events of the Arab Spring, the Western view of ‘al-Qaeda’s Arab Spring’ and where the revolutions should head next.

The Tsumani of Change

Inspire (Fifth Edition)

“The friends of America and Israel are being mopped out one after the other.” Al-Qaeda’s view of the Arab Spring is viewed through the trans national prism of defeating the influence of its enemies within the Islamic world. The fall of Mubarak was historic for the region but was also “a day that exposed America’s two-faced policy on democracy.” It is also claimed that “The issue of Palestine in central to the Muslim ummah and now that the masses have spoken, there is no doubt that it will be back to the forefront.” Through their revolutions the ummah’s voice is saying “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we’ll meet.” Their is high hopes in that the revolution will lead to calls for jihad coming to the fore, with a united Mujadhidin leading the charge meeting at the doors of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Anwar al-Awlaki provides the centre piece of this edition, with his article entitled The Tsunami of Change. He refers back to the removal of Anwar Sadat in October 1981 as “the first large-scale operation by the modern jihad movement.” It brought the fall of Sadat, who’s crimes included ruling without Sharia and signing a peace treaty with the Israeli’s. However, “Mubarak proved to be no better” and the Egyptian populous collectively removed him from power. Awlaki is adamant that this “tsunami of change has already benefited the ummah.” The most important of which is the mental change, the change “to the collective mind of the ummah.” The Tunisian and Egyptian examples have shown that the tyrants are not irremovable. Awlaki also prophesies where the revolutions will head next, as he is sure that the spirit of revolution will spread. Next up, Awlaki believes is Yemen. “Then there are great expectations of what will come out of the Arabian Peninsula when the revolts reach the shores of the Gulf.” Awalki questions whether the west really understands the threat that the revolutions represent. With the fall of Gulf governments, Jihadi’s will be released from prison and then Western interests will be truly under threat.

Al-Qaeda’s Arab Spring according to the West

Yahya Ibrahim, Editor of Inspire tells us in his editorial that “The West believes that the revolts are bad for al-Qaeda. This is not the case. Why would the freedoms being granted to the people be bad for al-Qaeda? If freedom is so bad for al-Qaeda, how come the West has been practising a restriction on the freedoms of expression when it comes to the message of the mujahidin?” Freedom for the populations that revolted in the Arab Spring is viewed as representing a contradiction of the Western policy of repressing what Jason Burke terms al-Qaeda’s “idea, world-view, and ideology.” This aims  to discredit the Western discourse of the damage that the Arab Spring brought to the Al-Qaeda’s idea. This view is recognised and rejected by Ibrahim. He acknowledges that because the revolts “were peaceful” the West believes that “they proved al-Qaeda – which calls for armed struggle – to be wrong. This is another fallacy.” Ibrahim views al-Qaeda as not having limited to the use of force, they agree with peaceful change, just do not deny the use of force.

Awlaki also disputes the Western discourse that views the peaceful protests discrediting al-Qaeda’s call for the use of the force. He highlights the view of Fareed Zakaria, former editor of Newsweek, who believes  “the Arab revolts of 2011 represents a total repudiation of al-Qaeda’s founding ideology.” Awalki is adamant that he is wrong! Awalki aims to discredit Zakaria and the wider Western discourse by providing a two arguments. Firstly he is sure that “the outcome doesn’t have to be an Islamic government for us to consider what is occurring a step in the right direction.” Whatever governments emerge, Awalki is sure Islamist will not face the same repression. The second argument that Awalki puts forward is to provide greater legitimacy, in his eyes, to al-Qaeda’s ideology by claiming the inheritance of Qutbist ideology. He believes that you can “see clearly the strong influence of the Egyptian Islamic Movement. It was Sayyid Qutb…that represented the ideological basis for today’s jihad work.” Awlaki also looks to discredit Peter Bergen, CNN’s National Security correspondent, who “believes that al-Qaeda is viewing the events with glee and despair.” However Awlaki is adamant that al-Qaeda is filled with “Glee yes, but not despair.” As the revolutions continue, Awlaki believes that America “an exhausted empire, (will have) to spread itself thin, which in turn would be a great benefit for the mujahidin.”

Abu Suhail, in his article titled The Way Forward takes the argument against the Western view the furthest, claiming that the Arab Spring has “proved that al-Qaeda’s rage is shared by the millions of Muslim’s across the World whether they are in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Yemen or elsewhere.” What is most important to al-Qaeda however is the final result of the Arab Spring, where will they stand in this much changed Arab landscape.

Consolidating the achievements for al-Qaeda

When it comes to deciding what the Arab Spring should lead to and how it should advance to the decided conclusion that internal disagreements can be located within al-Qaeda. We have already seen above that Awlaki believes that the greatest benefit will be the spread of the current revolutions, to allow the loosening of repression on Islamists and provide the necessary conditions to bring about further, Islamic change.  Samir Kahn, the American al-Qaeda ideologue discusses in his article entitled The Egyptian how  the Egyptian people should use their new found freedom. In particular he focusses on how the Egyptians will now define themselves as a collective identity. He dismisses culture as a means of definition and tells the Egyptian people that “your loyalty should be to Allah and his Messenger.” He tells them also that they “are now faced with a complex interconnection between what is democratically acceptable and what is Islamically acceptable.”

Ayman al-Zawahiri discusses The Short and Long Term Plans After the Protests. He is sure that the Crusader Enemy “won’t be able to face a mass wave of resentment and anger.” Zawahiri is sure, even with the precedent set up aspects of the Arab Spring that “whatever its form, method and means, force remains a necessary element for bringing about change.” The successes of the Arab Spring are only the beginning for Zawahiri, the winner will be the one who takes “advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.” In order for al-Qaeda to be the group that capitalises on the opportunities Zawahiri presents both Short and Long term plans. In the Short-term the ummah must target Crusader and Jewish interests within their domestic arenas. In the Long-term, the ummah will bring success by “hurrying to the fields of jihad like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia for jihad preparation and training.” This call to training contradicts what I consider to be the overarching purpose of Inspire, which aims to propagate, train and bring forth Individual acts of jihad.

Zawahiri in a separate article on the Revolutions provides a stark warning, that gives legitimacy to his two part plan that appears earlier in the issue. he warns that:

“It is a new government that gives people minor aspects of freedom, slight reforms and the freeing of some detainees with bails for a period of time.

However, holding the reins of the government’s rule remains in the hands of America’s representatives, agents and soldiers.”

The hand of America will always be seen to hold influence. Zawahiri’s view of where the Arab Spring should go next is set within a trans-national prism with American and Israeli interests at the centre. In contrast Awalki and Samir Kahn, two of the central figures of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, see the next step within an Arab domestic arena. Those who have already fought for change must be the ones who decide where they want the Revolution to go. They must decide on the means by which they will define themselves and with new governments providing a less hostile arena for Islamists to act within, change is sure to go the way that al-Qaeda would desire.

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