Over the last two years several court cases involving people allegedly involved in terrorism in the United Kingdom have mentioned a publication called Inspire. One of its recurring themes is the use fire as a key element of terrorism. Dr Dave Sloggett looks back over the first ten edition to explore its approach to trying to radicalise vulnerable people and assess its impact:
The latest and tenth edition of the Al Qaeda English language magazine Inspire has just appeared on line. In its open source Jihad section the magazine once again returns to the use of fire as a means to terrorise communities. In the last issue a major feature explored how to initiate forest fires. The article entitled “It is your freedom to ignite a firebomb” provided a great amount of detail of the ways of starting forest fires and what are favourable environmental conditions in which to achieve a massive effect.
In the latest issue the subject of how to start fires in cars is featured alongside another separate article suggesting how to create traffic accidents. It seems the writers of the magazine are keen to widen their horizons when it comes to suggesting ways in which vulnerable people can become involved in terrorism. Anything goes appears to be the current theme when it comes to conducting acts of terrorism.
One constant theme of the ten editions to date has been a specific aim to try and recruit individuals who can stay off the radar horizon and act alone in planning an act of terrorism. In its content Inspire aims to make it easy for vulnerable people to be drawn into acts of violence.
The first issue of Inspire appeared on the Internet in June 2010. From the outset anyone looking at its contents could see that it is a professionally produced title. It has a balanced approach between text and the use of pictures to illustrate how to obtain the tools of the trade of terrorism. In its first edition the article “How to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mum” drew quite a lot of media attention.
What struck the reader of the article was the simple way in which the author used pictures to illustrate just how easily a bomb can be assembled from chemicals that are part of our daily lives. This is a magazine that understands its potential target audience and seeks to deliver messages that resonate with people that may be considering turning to violence to express their opinions.
Several columnists have written in the various issues about their personal experiences of being involved in Jihad. Other articles develop similar themes. One recent article had the headline “Why did I choose Al Qaeda?” The aim is clear to entice vulnerable individuals into the world-wide franchise that Al Qaeda has become. Superficially this looks like a very effective use of narrative. But is Inspire really that effective?
Whilst some eminent scholars question the authenticity of the magazine, doubting its links to Al Qaeda and regarding its content as weak, one fact that cannot be ignored is the number of times it has been cited in court cases in the United Kingdom. Others take a different view acknowledging the way the magazine sets out to act as a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda. One regular element of the magazine contains stories of those who have become involved in Jihad. In the third edition published in November 2010 an apparent change of strategy was announced by the Al Qaeda leadership under the name Operation Haemorrhage.
This called for individuals to respond to the call to Jihad in the countries where they live. The simple idea was that any act of violence no matter how small would result in the west spending yet more money on countering terrorism. Al Qaeda’s leaders it seemed were keen to learn lessons from the end of the Cold War. If America came out of the Cold War on top because of its economic might Al Qaeda believed it could bring the United States and its allies to their knees by creating a demand for yet more spending on security. It was nothing less than a call to attempt to use terrorism to bankrupt the west. With financial markets and the world’s banking system teetering on the edge in 2009 Al Qaeda saw an opportunity to seize the initiative.
In the same November edition of Inspire another article provided an example of the strategy laid out by Operation Haemorrhage. The article simply entitled $4,200 stated that the total cost of the attempted attack on two cargo planes heading to the United States was $4,200 and that this included the postage paid to DHL to carry the two boxes laden with a printer bombs timed to detonate when the packages where in the air over America. The impact of the statement was obvious. It is not expensive to become involved in terrorism. This is a point routinely made in Jihadi forums. The attacks on London on 7 July 2005 have been noted as costing around £15,000.
Another theme developed throughout the ten issues of Inspire is the idea of individual jihad. The aim of the article is clearly to attract individuals who may feel disconnected from society to conduct acts of violence alone. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are clearly well aware of the current limitations the security services in the west have in trying to monitor suspicious behaviour.
Indeed the latest national awareness campaign in the media under the banner “it may be nothing but…” clearly hopes to encourage members of the public to report anything they see as being suspicious. Meanwhile the United Kingdom Government tries to find ways of getting its Internet Bill through Parliament that would help provide the intelligence services with the kind of material to help stop attacks by individuals.
All of this however begs an obvious question. Whilst Inspire has clearly featured in a number of high profile counter-terrorism cases the lack of actions by so-called lone wolves does raise an issue about how successful the magazine has been in recruiting vulnerable people. For Al Qaeda this too is a dilemma.
In the United States just over 50 attacks motivated by the kind of material published in Inspire have been prevented by the security services. The lack of successful attacks in the west suggests that Inspire is not having the desired effect. Its effectiveness must be called into question. It is one thing to encourage people to commit acts of violence. It is quite another thing for those individuals to cross the Rubicon and become a fully-fledged terrorist. It would seem that narrative alone is insufficient to make people become involved in terrorism. Other factors clearly come into play.