The November special issue of Inspire, a slick new English-language Web magazine produced by Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, aims to do more than report the news. It wants to make news, by inspiring young American Muslims to kill their neighbors.
In addition to offering a wealth of fresh details about the attempted bombing of two U.S. cargo planes last month, the third issue of Inspire (the first issue came out in June, the second in October) also provides hard evidence of what many analysts once said was impossible—the growth of homegrown Muslim terrorism in America from a secondary nuisance into a major threat.
To bring down America, "we do not need to strike big," the editors of Inspire boast. "Attacking the enemy with smaller but more frequent operations" will "bleed the enemy"—a strategy of death "by a thousand cuts." One article claims that the recent effort to bomb FedEx and UPS cargo planes, which the magazine calls "Operation Hemorrhage," cost only $4,200: two Nokia phones at $150 each, two H-P printers at $300 each, plus "shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses."
The accompanying editorial package offers a canny blend of photos, feature stories, insider details, snappy news bits and verse-quoting theological justifications for terrorist attacks, all of it calculated to appeal to American Muslims who grew up on glossy magazines like Details and GQ. It is also notable for its collegiate sense of humor, which includes a mention of the fact that the plotters dropped a copy of Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" into one of the bomb packages—a detail illustrated by a close-up of the novel's paperback edition. A photograph of Yemeni President Ali Saleh is accompanied by the caption "Yeah, keep scratching your head"; a credit at the bottom states "This ad is brought to you by A Cold Diss," a seeming attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of Muslim hipsters.
If Inspire feels so very American, that is because it is believed to be the work of two longtime American citizens—Samir Khan, a Saudi-born American who produced jihadist propaganda from his parents' basement in Queens, N.Y., before fleeing to Yemen in 2007, and Anwar Al-Awlaki, a supposedly "moderate" Islamist cleric who once ran a mosque in Virginia and was recently labeled "the most dangerous man in the world" at a public briefing by New York Police Department intelligence analysts. Targeted for death by a presidential order last May, Mr. Awlaki has reportedly inspired recent terrorist strikes against the U.S. and its allies, including Major Nidal Malik Hasan's rampage at Fort Bragg, in which the U.S. serviceman killed 13 fellow soldiers and wounded 32 others.
Available as a download from an array of websites, Inspire represents a shift among Western jihadists from following theological casuistry on YouTube videos and chat rooms to mobilizing individuals for violent jihad in their home countries. The magazine, whose title comes from a Koranic verse, "inspire the believers to fight," remixes old-school jihadist tropes for an English-speaking Western audience raised on videogames and consumer magazines. Feature stories, first-person narratives, and theological and strategic arguments are mixed with step-by-step instruction in the nuts and bolts of killing people with readily available objects. "If you are sincere in your intentions to serve the religion of Allah," one article advises, "what you have to do is enter your kitchen and make an explosive device." A recipe for making a simple but deadly bomb follows.
The prominence and deadly reach of Inspire confirms the controversial thesis advanced in an August 2007 report by the New York Police Department intelligence analysts Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt, who identified "homegrown radicalization" as a major threat. Outraging many civil libertarians, Muslim groups and law enforcement officials, a subsequent report by Mr. Silber stated that the key plotters in 30 of 33 jihadist plots studied by the NYPD had been radicalized in the West and had targeted their home countries. It also specifically identified Mr. Awlaki as an important "spiritual sanctioner" of homegrown terrorist plots in America.
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, says that intelligence and counter-terrorism officials in Washington have become deeply concerned about Inspire because, unlike earlier efforts, it is written by Americans for Americans (and other English-speaking Muslims). Furthermore, unlike Osama Bin Laden, Mr. Awlaki has impeccable theological credentials.
"Inspire is edgy," says Mr. Hoffman. "It is this journalistic brio that commands Washington's attention."
The magazine's apparent editor, Samir Khan, contributed a riveting account of his self-radicalization to the October issue. His article expressed disdain for all things American, in particular, his former country's military interventions in the Middle East and South Asia. American law enforcement, he scoffed, was incompetent, since it "didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was Al Qaeda to the core." Although he spent years distributing ever more violent anti-American propaganda from the basement of his apparently unsuspecting parents' home, he claims that federal authorities never caught on to him. "I am acutely aware that body parts have to be torn apart, skulls have to be crushed and blood has to be spilled," he wrote, in prose calculated to appeal to angry teenagers everywhere.
Thomas Hegghammer, a scholar at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Oslo, initially discounted the importance of Inspire, writing last summer that it was "a drop in an ocean of jihadi propaganda." He now pays closer attention to it as an indicator of jihadist recruiting themes and techniques. Inspire may also shed light on what the radicals fear. An article by Mr. Awlaki in the October issue strongly criticized the Mardin Declaration, a statement denouncing the militants as un-Islamic for resorting to violence and issued by a group of moderate clerics in April in the Turkish city of Mardin. Mr. Hegghammer suggests that Mr. Awlaki's attack on the Mardin Declaration may signal that Al Qaeda militants are worried about how such "theological initiatives" undermine the legitimacy of their cause.
The most unnerving pages of the magazine for an American reader are those devoted to advice to the aspiring suburban jihadist, who is encouraged to attach large, sharp blades to the front of a pick-up truck "to mow down as many people as possible in a crowd" and to use other gruesome homemade devices to act upon fantasies of violent martyrdom. Soulful photographs of bearded men in robes and headdresses alternate with translations of the writings of high-end theoreticians of "individual jihad" like Abu Musab Al-Suri.
Jarret Brachman, a scholar on counter-terrorism, recently described Inspire as a dangerous advance over previous forms of English-language jihadist propaganda. "Whereas previous publications used to focus on making complex arguments and exploring sophisticated issues in-depth," he wrote, "this series is focused on mobilizing: on actualizing potential. They believe that there are a lot of loaded guns out there in the form of angry kids in the West. They just need someone to pull the trigger: Al-Qaeda believes they can be this trigger."
The November issue of the magazine also includes a page asking for the freedom of homegrown American jihadists, including John Walker Lindh, the famous American Taliban; Carlos Amante and Shaker Masri, who were arrested for jihadist ties and for attempting to go to Somalia to fight with the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabab militia; Paul Gene Rockwood, an Alaskan weatherman who was arrested with his wife for being involved in an apparent bomb plot; and Zachary Adam Chesser, who threatened the creators of the cartoon "South Park" for depicting Mohammed in the show's 200th episode.
For a variety of reasons, the U.S. government has been reluctant to identify homegrown radicals as a threat. But the connection between the recent spate of actual and attempted terrorist attacks on American soil and a sophisticated network of ideologists and radical organizations has many experts worried. "Yes, we're very good at killing them, as our drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have shown," Mr. Hoffman laments. "But terrorism is never defeated by decapitation alone…but by breaking the cycle of recruitment, indoctrination, training and operations. We're a long way from understanding the process, much less countering it."
Judith Miller is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal and the author of "God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting From a Militant Middle East." David Samuels is a contributing editor at Harper's magazine.