Sunday, November 4, 2007

Al-Qaeda's Internet Strategy

Al Qaeda and its followers have used the Internet to communicate and rally support for years, but in the past several months the Western tilt of the message and the sophistication of the media have accelerated. So has the output. Since the beginning of the year, Al Qaeda’s media operation, Al Sahab, has issued new videotapes as often as every three days. Even more come from Iraq, where insurgents are pumping them out daily.

That production line is the legacy of one man: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia who was killed in June 2006 by American bombs.

Mr. Zarqawi learned the power of the Internet in prison, according to a former associate who was imprisoned with him in Jordan a decade ago. Mr. Zarqawi’s jailhouse group of 32 Islamists sought to recruit other prisoners by handwriting a newsletter, Al Tawheed, when it discovered a larger audience.

“We sent them outside, to brothers in Europe and England,” who posted the newsletters on militant Web sites, the associate said, asking not be identified because he said he is involved with Islamist activities.

In Iraq, Mr. Zarqawi embraced the video camera as a weapon of war. “He made the decision that every group should have a video camera with them, and every operation should be taped,” said a Palestinian militant who went to Iraq in 2005 to teach foreign fighters from Morocco and parts of Europe how to build bombs and stage roadside attacks.

Two Lebanese intelligence officials confirmed that the Palestinian, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Omar, had worked with Mr. Zarqawi in Iraq, and he played a video of foreign fighters in Iraq for reporters of The New York Times.

Abu Omar, 37, a muscular man who carried a Glock 21 pistol tucked into the belt of his camouflage pants during an interview at his home in Lebanon, said Mr. Zarqawi also had him tape his bombmaking classes so his expertise would not be lost if he were killed.

“We had two cameramen, people who learned how to do this before they came to Iraq,” Abu Omar said. “And after filming, we had different houses in the area where we made the videos.”

Dahia al-Maqdassi, 26, a Palestinian who said he produced insurgent videos in Iraq two years ago, said, “In every city in Iraq they had a little office where someone did film operations.” He described his “media section” as a house near Falluja where 6 to 10 people worked. “We finished the film and then sent it to jihadi Web sites,” Mr. Maqdassi said.

-An Internet Jihad Aims at U.S. Viewers

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