Intelligence is Cramping al Qaeda’s Style

SPY Historian Mark Stout

The second issue of Inspire, the English language magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) popped up online on 11 October.[1]  The first issue came out in July, though for several days only the first few pages could be read due to a problem with the PDF file.  (The jihadists blamed the US Government for sabotaging the piece.)  Inspire is aimed largely at would-be home-grown American jihadists.  It tries to fill them with revolutionary Islamist zeal and to teach them how they can contribute to the global jihad.  AQAP has struck again in the war of ideas.

First the slightly alarming news from this latest issue: the magazine suggests creating the “ultimate mowing machine” by attaching horizontal blades to a large pickup truck and driving it through a crowd to “mow down the enemies of Allah.”

 Now the more encouraging news: it is striking how much the various authors featured in the magazine seem concerned about the threat posed by the intelligence and security services, both of the United States and of Arab countries.  They make clear that the security forces have tremendous advantages that impinge on virtually every part of the jihadists’ lives.

 Electronic surveillance and the difficulties of secure communication loom particularly large in the jihadists concerns.  Yahya Ibrahim, the author of the “ultimate mowing machine” article, urges his brethren to use electronic communications only for non-jihad related activities and “if it is necessary for the work to use the mobile phone or internet, then use it with proper security measures such as a coded language…or…encryption software from a terminal that cannot be traced back to you.”  This issue also contains part two of a series on how to use a special encryption program called Asrar al-Mujahideen 2.0 to secure internet communications and “shred” computer files.  However, even this program is no cure-all: “it is important to note that getting caught from the intelligence services for using this program will most likely end you up in prison.” [sic]

 The lethal international reach of American hard power, including the military and the CIA, shows up in an article by Adam Gadahn in which the renegade American explains the steps that “Barack” must take if he wishes peace with the Muslims.  The first item on the list is: “you must pull every last one of your soldiers, spies, security advisors, trainers, attachés, contractors, robots, drones and all other American personnel, ships, and aircraft out of every Muslim land from Afghanistan to Zanzibar.”  Similarly, Samir Khan, a former resident of North Carolina and jihadist blogger, says he detected an American spy watching him after he moved to Yemen.  Uthman al-Ghamidi a senior leader of AQAP talks about the presence of American intelligence officers in Muslim lands, as well.  He also recounts how Saudi intelligence watched him like a hawk even after he was released.  We were freed but we were still like prisoners.…We were continuously being called in for questioning and they would use the excuse that they just wanted to check on our wellbeing.…Our every move was being monitored.” 

 Fellow Muslims or alleged Muslims can also be serious threats, according to Inspire.  Though ultimately he scoffs at their efforts, Samir Khan recounts how American intelligence agencies “were watching me for all those years” in America.  He says the FBI even dispatched a spy to watch him who pretended to convert to Islam.  Yahya Ibrahim warns that “if the Feds suspect you are up to something, they may try to set you up through an informant.  There were quite a few brothers who were….sold out by brothers who ended up collaborating with the authorities.”  Mukhtar Hassan, the author of an article on the realities of life in the jihadist camps, picked up a different aspect of this theme: 

 One of the pillars of contemporary jihad is secrecy.  If its members don’t practice this amongst themselves, it is possible for the movement to fall apart.  What is meant here by secrecy is hiding from the people your personal information except for those details that the Amir has allowed.  This is because if a mujahid is captured by the enemy and is interrogated through torture, he might give away your details.

 What does all of this add up to?  The short answer is “friction” and lots of it.  The great German philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that “everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”  This phrase well describes the jihadists’ reality.  They can imagine many simple ways of killing infidels but executing these simple plans is difficult.  So many things could go fatally wrong and many of them are linked to the intelligence and security agencies.  Even the “ultimate mowing machine” plan turns out to be difficult to implement.  Yahya Ibrahim advises that the welding of the blades onto the truck should be done “right before you take off…so as to not give the authorities a chance to botch the operation.”

 It seems that being on the defense against terrorists is hard, but terrorists also have a hard time being on the offense.

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1 Response to Intelligence is Cramping al Qaeda’s Style

  1. Thi Sigworth says:

    I always spent my half an hour to read this blog’s content everyday along with a cup of coffee.

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