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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Online Jihadi Forums Provide Curriculum for Aspiring Mujahideen

A recent discussion on http://tajdeed.org.uk demonstrates the increasingly common practice of training up-and-coming mujahideen via the internet. The postings attached archived copies of al-Ansar magazine, Sawt al-Jihad and Mu'askat al-Battar, all of which were clearinghouses for al-Qaeda's jihadi strategists. Such forum postings illustrate the way in which the community of mujahideen and their supporters not only develop and distribute curriculum for the aspiring, inexperienced youth who wish to join their ranks, but also consolidate jihadi strategy and serve as a conduit to implement that strategy at the lowest levels. The posting announced the "Encyclopedia of Periodicals and Publications on Jihad," containing dozens of files and links to magazines, mostly published in 2002-03. The author describes the project as a presentation and explanation of mujahideen communications being made available to all Muslims.

The encyclopedia set out an ambitious collection for future postings: a video course and seven-part audio course by Abu Musab al-Suri on the call to organized resistance (which advertise "a file of the sheikh's most prominent book, The Call to Global Islamic Resistance"); the writings of Abdullah Azzam; jihadi periodicals and publications; statements from Osama bin Laden; courses on security precautions; responses to the mujahideen's critics; poetry in praise of jihad; and war videos, among others.

This first installment of the encyclopedia, apparently to be presented serially, is that of the magazines and publications on jihad. The magazines feature the writing of leading jihadi ideologues that have in essence become the core curriculum for the current generation of mujahideen. They include articles by Yusuf al-Uyayri (alternatively known as Yusuf al-Ayyiri), a Saudi-born al-Qaeda strategist who was a leading commander and trainer of the mujahideen. Al-Uyayri was killed by Saudi security forces in 2003 and is memorialized in the Mua'skar al-Battar, which takes its title from his nom de guerre. The influential group of authors guiding the jihadi movement also includes Abdullah bin Nasir al-Rashid, Sayf al-Din al-Ansari, Abu Ubayd al-Qurashi and other Saudi mujahideen; these are all Saudi-raised Salafis who espouse the jihadi cause.

While online training material has been an essential part of advancing the jihadi movement during the past five years, such postings also suggest that there is now a tendency to consolidate the abundance of existing jihadi strategic and tactical material. If this trend is in fact a reflection of al-Qaeda's intention to unify its doctrine and present a coherent body of materials to the mujahid "in his place of isolation," as they describe him, it would logically present a number of clear benefits to the organization as it prepares for the next stage of the conflict.

Having a core set of jihadi strategists tightly in-line with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri allows al-Qaeda to translate its broader, rhetorical goals of defeating the "crusader" and "Zionist" forces into more practical measures like selecting targets and providing training and guidance to their supporters, as well as legitimizing their operations and instilling the proper ideology to those who fight under their banner. This core set of materials on jihadi strategy—like other collections of jihadi material such as the Mawsu'at al-I'dad, or the Encyclopedia of Preparation—also allows the movement to review lessons from the past and assess the effectiveness of their strategy.

It is also noteworthy that the majority of al-Qaeda's contemporary jihadi strategists are of Saudi origin. These individuals were a product of the Saudi Salafi establishment, but found themselves betrayed by the Saudi regime when the official clergy condemned the actions of the mujahideen after September 11. These Saudi Salafi-Jihadis authored a sizable share of the jihadi material produced during 2001-2003, much of it influenced by their ongoing insurgency campaign against the Saudi security forces. This output was disrupted in 2003 after the Saudi mujahideen took heavy losses, including the deaths of a number of key leaders. Yet, they have been far more prolific in producing jihadi literature than their counterparts in Afghanistan, Iraq or other battlefields, most likely due to their Islamic training and education in the kingdom and more hospitable conditions on the ground.

In the larger context, collections of online jihadi literature such as these present a serious challenge to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. They provide an outlet for al-Qaeda and other jihadi leaders to distribute their materials, and while certain websites can be monitored or removed, the material remains available online at other sites. In this case, the "Encyclopedia of Periodicals and Publications on Jihad" attracted 3,814 readers. Yet, it is one of many other such postings on various websites frequented by the mujahideen. Such efforts are clearly the easiest and safest way for them to reach young militants, who likely lack training, and steer them under al-Qaeda's general command.

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