Monday, February 23, 2009
Our enemy and PR
1. On September 8 and 11, 2007, close to the date of the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden issued a video and an audio tape. It was his first video in three years, and a year had passed since his last audio tape. They signaled the start of a nine-month media campaign (September 2007 to May 2008) during which bin Laden reiterated Al-Qaeda's ideology and strategy before various Arab and Muslim target audiences. In addition, he used the tapes to extend the themes spread via the Internet by other Al-Qaeda spokesmen. 2. The 27-minute video was issued on September 8, 2007, through websites affiliated with the global jihad. Its objective was to convince the American public to exert pressure on the administration to stop the war in Iraq , using a direct appeal, and not for the first time, in view of the large number of American losses. The audio tape was issued on September 11, 2007. It was aimed at Muslims around the world to promote global jihad activity by turning Abu Musab Walid al-Shehri (a prominent Saudi Al-Qaeda terrorist in one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center ) into a role model. Exceptionally, about two thirds of the tape consisted of al-Shehri's last statement, which has so far not been made public.
3. Before the two tapes were issued, most of Al-Qaeda's propaganda dealt with specifics of the organization's ideology and strategy, expressed mainly by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy. Bin Laden's tapes (and others issued later) contained a broad, methodical exposition of Al-Qaeda's ideology as interpreted by its leader. The tapes show a relatively good (but not always accurate) familiarity with events in American and international politics. They also show a good command of literary Arabic and knowledge of Islamic sources, which make him extremely admired by his Muslim target audiences, in addition to his charismatic personality. Eight more audio tapes followed, which may indicate new life being infused into Al-Qaeda's war for hearts and minds (since May 2008 no more bin Laden videos or audio tapes have appeared. The reason is unclear.)
4. Introducing the video , bin Laden states his deep belief in the Islam which supports the rule of “an eye for an eye.” He also says that only all those who worship Allah will reach paradise. Introducing the audio tape, an anonymous voice dramatically praises those who sacrifice their lives for the sake of Allah, and explains that they do not die in vain because they are justly rewarded. Despite what might possibly be imagined as a measure of consideration for the American people, bin Laden's primary objective was and still is promoting his ideology and his own perception of global jihad.
5. The analysis of bin Laden's media campaign is based on the audio and video tapes issued since September 2007 and eight additional audio tapes which appeared later. They target a variety of audiences: Americans, Europeans, Muslims in Pakistan and Iraq and jihad operatives all over the world, specifically “ Palestine .” In an unprecedented fashion they focus on “the liberation of Palestine ” through Al-Qaeda's ideology and strategy of global jihad, although neither has been particularly evident in the jihad against Israel so far.
6. All the tapes were produced by Al-Sahab and issued through Arab-language websites affiliated with the global jihad. Some of them had English subtitles and some were produced in other languages. As noted, most of them were partly aired on Al-Jazeera TV, which often gives media coverage to bin Laden's propaganda, aiding Al-Qaeda in its battle for hearts and minds, including among the Palestinians (the Palestinian survey service Alpha recently noted that Al-Jazeera is the most-watched channel in the Palestinian Authority). In addition, airing Al-Qaeda propaganda increases the number of Al-Jazeera TV viewers, among Muslim communities in Israel and Western countries. Al-Jazeera TV also supports Hamas's battle for hearts and minds, despite the fact by doing so it weakens Mahmoud Abbas and the PA.
Al-Qaeda picture posted on the forum site of Al-Jazeera TV, accompanied by an expression of support for Al-Qaeda (posted September 15, 2007). The text reads, “[Awaiting] your orders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi [leader of “the Islamic State of Iraq, i.e., Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq], [awaiting] your orders, Islamic country of Iraq”
(From http://www.aljazeeratalk.net/forum/showthread.php?t=71139 ) (See below).
7. This study analyzes the nature and significance of the bin Laden media campaign which began in September 2007. It contains the following sections:
ii) An appeal to the American people
iii) An appeal to the Muslim target audience
iv) An appeal to the Pakistani people
v) An appeal to the Iraqi people
vi) An appeal to the European countries whose soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan
vii) “The way to foil the plots” of Osama bin Laden's opponents
viii) An appeal to “the reasonable of the European Union”
ix) The way to “save Palestine ” from the Israelis
x) An appeal to the West: The struggle against Israel on the 60 th anniversary of its founding
xi) “The liberation of Palestine ” only through jihad
xii) Summary and evaluation of bin Laden's media campaign
Osama bin Laden, from a video appealing to the European nations (April 15, 2004): "…I call upon just men, especially scholars, media [personnel] and businessmen, to form a permanent commission to raise awareness among Europeans of the justice of our causes, primarily Palestine, making use of the enormous potential of the media ." 1
Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, writing to Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi, who was the Al-Qaeda commander in Iraq : “We are in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media… We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our people .” (From the American Senate report analyzing the extensive use made of the Internet by Al-Qaeda, p. 6. 2)
8. The United States and the world recently marked the seventh anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center . The past year has witnessed a resurgence of the war for hearts and minds waged by the organization (known as “Qaedat al-Jihad” since 2001). The resurgence was manifested by a media campaign waged by bin Laden after a long silence.
9. The campaign began with an audio tape and a video , both issued in 2007 close to the date of the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attack. The video, the first in three years, was aimed at the American public, while the audio was aimed at Muslims worldwide. Eight more audio tapes were distributed through the Internet, targeting Muslims (particularly jihad operatives) in Afghanistan , Iraq , “ Palestine ,” and other arenas, as well as at Americans and Europeans whose soldiers participate in the war in Afghanistan .
10. Why did bin Laden choose September 2007 to begin a media campaign? Possibly because of operational circumstances caused by the loss of his main territorial base in Afghanistan , which occurred with the fall of the Taliban at the end of 2001; at the time there were rumors that he had been killed. It was also claimed that the tapes issued then had been recorded a long time previously. In our assessment, bin Laden's current media campaign is primarily intended to show global jihad operatives that he is alive and well and that he has a territorial base from which he can direct the battle for hearts and minds in an orderly, methodical way . Thus the campaign may indicate that this past year Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan 's sense of security and its operational capabilities have increased over the past year, since its organization and hierarchy were severely affected after 2001.
11. In addition, it is possible that the campaign's objective is to encourage bin Laden's supporters in the other arenas of confrontation outside Afghanistan , mainly in Iraq (of which bin Laden makes special note in the tapes). In that case, the campaign would be aimed primarily at encouraging jihad operatives in general, both operationally and with regard to morale, and to spur them on, especially to carry out mass-casualty suicide bombing attacks. (From that point of view, the inauguration of a new administration in the United States is likely to be a convenient time for a new wave of terrorist attacks.) In retrospect, bin Laden's appeals during the past year may have already influenced global terrorism: There is more terrorist activity in Pakistan (which led to the resignation of Pakistani president Musharraf), India , Afghanistan , North Africa, and possibly Yemen . Global jihad supporters are also making an effort to establish themselves in Lebanon , Syria and the Gaza Strip , so far without much success.
12. Bin Laden's campaign is also marked by a deep loathing for and the ideological contradictions between the Sunni Al-Qaeda and the Shi'ite militias in Iraq and Shi'ite Hezbollah in Lebanon . In Iraq , he accuses his Shi'ite opponents of “treason” and “crimes” and calls upon his Sunni supporters to join ranks against them and against Sunnis collaborating with the Iraqi regime. He even cites Islamic law to support his claim, challenging the criticism leveled at Al-Qaeda's leaders for the responsibility they bear for the deaths of innocent Muslim civilians. In Lebanon , Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, are represented as having aided the American “plot,” i.e., UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the second Lebanon war. Bin Laden calls Nasrallah “helpless” (in that he was incapable of preventing the resolution from being passed), and considers him a traitor whose treason is no less than that of the late, murdered Egyptian president Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan (both of whom signed peace agreements with Israel). Deep hatred for the United States , Israel and Western culture is common to both bin Laden and Khomeini's radical Shi'ite ideology. Bin Laden's statements also illustrate that the age-old Sunni-Shia rift is still a dominant factor in both Iraq and Lebanon , as well as in Al-Qaeda's relations with Iran . 3 In our assessment, bin Laden's threats against the Shi'ites are liable to lead to internal confrontations in the future in Iraq and Lebanon, between radical Sunni Islamic global jihad operatives and representatives of radical Shi'ite Islamic ideology.
13. In our assessment, another objective of bin Laden's media campaign is to motivate the public in the United States and Europe to exert pressure on their respective governments to end their involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan . However, rather than using eloquent language, the video targeting the American people was accompanied by rebukes, a negation of the principles of American culture and government (democracy and capitalism), a threat to kill American citizens and even a call to Americans to convert to Islam . At first glance, the alternatives he presented, i.e., conversion to Islam and abandoning of democracy, might seem delusional and unrealistic. However, the various themes were absorbed by supporters in the West and even Israel , who assimilated them and in some instances became home-grown terrorists , inspired by radical Islam's violent ideology. Although their numbers are small, the potential danger they present is great , and they are capable of carrying out terrorist attacks, including unconventional terrorism, in the United States and other Western countries.
14. Promoting the idea of “the liberation of Palestine ” through jihad : Osama bin Laden grants an unprecedented emphasis in his tapes to the use of jihad violence to achieve “the liberation of Palestine ,” on the grounds that not one inch of Palestinian soil is to be ceded. However, in reality, there is a great gap between the importance of the terrorist campaign against Israel in Al-Qaeda's ideology and the situation on the ground (during the past year not one significant Al-Qaeda attack targeted Israel, and the organization racked up a number of failures, the most conspicuous of which was the blow suffered by Fatah al-Islam, its Lebanese branch). Bin Laden's explanation for the gap is that before the “liberation of Palestine ” Iraq must be “liberated,” the pro-Western Arab regimes must be overthrown and “treacherous” elements such as the Shi'ites must be confronted. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that before such missions are carried out, bin Laden will try to show his supporters his “worry and care” for Palestine and to prove that he not just paying lip service by carrying out showcase attacks against Israel or Jewish targets abroad . That is demonstrated by unsuccessful attempts recently exposed to recruit young Israeli Arabs to carry out such attacks. 4
15. An analysis of the tapes issued by bin Laden over the past year reveals not only an emphasis on his leadership, but on his ability as an Islamic preacher attempting to give an Islamic seal of approval to his political preaching, portraying him as a charismatic leader of all Muslims. It is clear from the tapes that his themes are based on the current historical Muslim perception of the continuing inferiority of Islam compared with the “infidel” superiority of the West, and that there is a necessity to restore Islam's superiority by the intensive recruitment of souls. Such an ideology, which bin Laden intends to implement by global jihad, is at the heart of Al-Qaeda's effort to recruit sympathizers and supporters in Muslim communities around the world.
16. With that end in mind, bin Laden's media campaign has made extensive use of authentic Islamic texts to justify his Islamic themes. Without a doubt, his message falls on willing ears, especially among many younger Muslims, to whom he appeals over the heads of the older clerics, most of whom serve the regimes and oppose the participation of the younger generation in the global jihad. Many younger people in Arab, Muslim and Western countries suffer from identity crises resulting from exposure to modern culture, one of whose manifestations is the information revolution, mainly the Internet. Thus bin Laden's intensive use of the Internet to spread his doctrines is productive and influences young Muslims, who adopt them and enlist in the global jihad in the various arenas in which it is taking place.
17. The tapes disseminated by bin Laden over the past year were manufactured by Al-Sahab , the propaganda wing of Al-Qaeda's leadership, and are advertised on Al-Qaeda-affiliated Arabic jihadist websites. Some have English subtitles and some are issued in other languages. Al-Qaeda makes extensive use of the Internet as its main weapon in the battle for hearts and minds and to promote its operational capabilities (the uses made by Al-Qaeda of the Internet were documented in the May 2008 Senate report). The Internet allows Al-Qaeda and other global jihad networks, many of which are affiliated with it , to overcome geographical barriers, avoid dependence on other media and circumvent the increasing difficulties raised by various governments. Thus, they exploit the principle of freedom of speech and the general Western approach that the Internet should not be censored.
18. Bin Laden's media campaign has been widely broadcast by the popular Arab television station, Al-Jazeera , which frequently quotes Al-Qaeda tapes, thereby increasing the dissemination organization's ideology and its own popularity. Al-Jazeera TV (which operates with the authorization, funding and support of the Qatari regime) has become Al-Qaeda's favorite channel , which does not shrink from sometimes expressing support for and identification with Al-Qaeda and its radical Islamic ideology. The reasons for that are opportunism, interests, and quite possibly politics and ideology (some of its correspondents have been detained on suspicion of collaborating with Al-Qaeda).
1 Osama Bin Laden “To the People of Europe” (April 15, 2004), in Message to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (edited and introduced by Bruce Laurence, translated by James Howarth), London and New York : Verso, 2005, p.235.
2 For further information see our July 14, 2008 Bulletin entitled “Terrorism and Internet: a US Senate report analyzes the extensive use made by Al-Qaeda of the Internet in its war for hearts and minds” .
3 Bin Laden does not specifically mention Iran because Al-Qaeda operatives found a haven there after the Americans destroyed their bases in Afghanistan in 2001. However his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was more forthcoming and recently viciously attacked Iran . In a cassette shown on Al-Jazeera TV on September 8, 2008, just before the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, he lashed out at the Islamic regime in Tehran , calling it an American collaborator in Iraq and Afghanistan . He also attacked Hassan Nasrallah because at the end of the second Lebanon war he moved his forces back 30 kilometers from the border with Israel and allowed the stationing of 15,000 “Crusaders” (i.e., the UNIFIL soldiers) to provide a buffer between Israel and the “jihad fighters.”
4 In recent months the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center issued bulletins dealing with the use of the Internet in recruiting Israeli Arabs as part of the process of Islamic radicalization, which motivated them to identify with Al-Qaeda's ideology and jihad strategy.