JOHN ROBERTS: 37 minutes now after the hour.
Since it appeared online officials have tracked what’s believed to be an al Qaida online magazine called Inspire. The 70 page terror guide includes how-to sections on bomb making, sending encrypted messages, an interview with fugitive Yemeni American Anwar Al Awlaki. Basically everything but letters to the editor. Well that can come in future editions. Now a top U.S. official tells CNN that the feds know who is behind it. He’s an American from North Carolina who went to Yemen last October and never came back.
Here for this morning’s security watch is Steve Emerson. He is the executive director of the non profit research group The Investigative Project on Terrorism. Steve, good to talk to you this morning.
This magazine, believed to be at least mostly put together by a fellow named Samir Kahn, who used to live as we said in North Carolina, moved to Yemen. What do we know about him and how seriously are counter terrorism officials taking this?
STEVE EMERSON: Well two good questions. One, they know pretty much most about him since he left the United States last year at the age of 23. He grew up in Queens, New York, joined an Islamic group, then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and operated a website, a radical jihadist website, that I actually monitored with my staff 2 years ago, but which the FBI was prevented from doing anything about because he was exercising his free speech. And it was also represented that he was a lone jihadist. Suddenly he leaves the United States, ends up in Yemen, becomes pals with the Anwar Al Awlaki, the al Qaida Yemeni cleric, and using his acrobatic skills, his graphic image skills, puts out a magazine that as you noted is probably a jihadist version of Popular Mechanics, Psychology Today and Ask Ann Landers. I mean everything from soup to nuts is in this magazine, written in incredibly good prose, provides dos and don’ts for carrying out jihad, including as you mentioned, how to build a bomb in your mom’s kitchen.
ROBERTS: So how seriously are counter terrorism officials taking all of this?
EMERSON: Well I think they are taking it seriously for a number of reasons. One is the fact that it provides operational directions and instructions for how to devise bombs and explosive devices. It also provides ways of using encrypted communications to avoid detection by electronic monitoring agencies like the National Security Agency. And most of all it’s written in English and in a style that is very alluring to potential young or middle age Muslim recruits that would carry out attacks in the United States.
ROBERTS: Let’s just take a quick look inside this magazine, because in addition to what you just talked about it’s got articles that are attributed both Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri, his number two. But what do you think the intent is here, Steve? Is it to kind of talk about this in the abstract or is to try to inspire a lone wolf or some sort of independent group to come to al Qaida’s direction?
EMERSON: It’s definitely designed to recruit new English speaking members. A vast new population pool on which al Qaida can recruit but before it couldn’t because most Westerners didn’t speak Arabic or the language from which al Qaida leaders came from. So this magazine speaks to Westerners in Europe, Westerners in the United States, even Latin America, and based on what happened last year, there were 15 al Qaida or homegrown Islamic terrorist plots, 9 of the defendants in those plots had downloaded videos or English language jihadist magazines from the internet showing that they were definitely radicalized by what they saw on the web.
ROBERTS: In at least three of them, but also had contact with the radical Islamist cleric Anwar al Awlaki who you were talking about. You talked about this but it bears taking a look at again, part of what we see inside the magazine is a page that’s called open source jihad, and it starts off with a picture of New York City. And then it goes on to give those step for step instructions on how to build a pipe bomb and how to send encrypted messages. Is there anything in this though Steve that’s not already widely available on the internet?
EMERSON: Remember the anarchist cook book is on the internet and that tells you how to make a bomb, so if you’re really looking for making a bomb this is not the only magazine. It doesn’t break any new precedents, but what is interesting about it is that it’s a complete magazine, it’s not just on bomb making but it’s on the philosophy on joining the jihad, what clothes to wear when you join the jihad, how to communicate secretly, what doubts you might have about the jihad and how they answer them in a very sophisticated manner. So psychologically I found this prose to be the most effective Western style recruiting tool that I’ve ever seen for getting young Muslims into the jihadist role.
ROBERTS: And with all of this out there and now with some American expatriates leading the way do you expect we’re going to see an even greater rise in terrorism here in the United States than we’ve seen in the past couple of years?
EMERSON: Well they certainly, in this magazine they taunt the fact that Muhammad Abdulmutallab, the Christmas day bomber, and Shahzad, the New York City would-be bomber, got through authorities but failed just on their own, so I think we’re looking at a population pool of potentially new recruits. Whether they succeed I can’t tell you John, but I do believe that if you look in the last three years the arrow is going upwards in terms of plots carried out here in the United States or in other countries against US targets, basically carried out by Americans or Western English speaking young Muslims.
ROBERTS: Pretty troubling news. Steve Emerson from the Investigative Project on Terrorism, good to talk to you this morning, thanks for dropping by.