A few weeks ago, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released the second edition of its online magazine, Inspire. As with the first edition, Inspire seeks to garner new recruits in the West who are willing to carry out acts of jihad. Much of the publication is devoted to wooing would-be terrorists willing to emulate the acts of Major Nidal Malik Hassan (aka the Fort Hood shooter) and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (who tried to blow up Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009). Both Hassan and Abdulmutallab had significant ties to AQAP prior to their respective days of terror.
Hassan received, at a minimum, spiritual guidance via email from Anwar al Awlaki, who is a top AQAP cleric. Abdulmutallab was convinced to join AQAP’s jihad by listening to al Awlaki’s lectures and even traveled to Yemen to receive training at an AQAP-run camp. Abdulmutallab was even able to meet Awlaki in person. U.S. counterterrorism officials have directly implicated Awlaki in the Christmas Day plot.
So, Inspire’s message is deadly serious. It is also at times comical.
One page, for instance, lists “Questions We Should Be Asking.” The first one is this:
If a long time journalist and reporter like Helen Thomas was thrown out for truthful words on the Israeli occupation, doesn’t that hint to everyone who’s really in control of America?
The authors of Inspire are referring, of course, to the kerfuffle over Helen Thomas’s unhinged remarks concerning Israel and the Jews. AQAP’s question could be considered a throwaway line, but in reality it demonstrates two important aspects of al Qaeda’s propaganda.
First, al Qaeda plays fairly close attention to the headlines coming out of the U.S., looking to seize on anything it can.
Second, when al Qaeda does reference American news stories it is almost always through a conspiratorial lens. There has been much discussion in the West about the ideology that fuels al Qaeda’s hate. But it is worth remembering at all times that this ideology relies on a paranoid and delusional view of the world in which an imaginary “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy seeks to impose its will on Muslims. In this regard, al Qaeda’s paranoia is not all that different from the insanity of Nazism or the anti-capitalist ranting of Communists. In each case, the ideologues pretend that a dastardly cabal threatens humanity and they are the last hope for redemption.
This aspect of al Qaeda’s worldview should not be dismissed. There is no reason to suspect that al Qaeda doesn’t believe it. Al Qaeda’s most senior leaders constantly frame their narrative in these conspiratorial terms.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.