Pakistan’s problems/ Issues in Middle East extremism
Oct 23, 2007 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
October 23, 2007
Number 10/07 #07
This Update combines comment on Pakistan’s problems with respect to terrorism and Islamic extremism, in the wake of the bloody assassination attempt on returning exiled politician Benazir Bhutto, with some other reports on Islamic extremism and terrorism emanating from the Middle East.
First up is journalist Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who details the extent of Pakistan’s problems, the control of the remote tribal regions by groups allied to al-Qaeda, and the support extremism has both in the population and the government establishment. He also explores the relative paucity of good options for dealing with this reality, given the state of Pakistani politics at the moment and the weakness of President Pervaz Musharraf. For this excellent detailed analysis of a tough policy problem based on interviews with numerous top experts, CLICK HERE.
Next up is a discussion of the latest policy documents issued by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the parent movement for many extremists groups across the Middle East, including Hamas. According to Middle Eastern affairs editor Mohamed Elmenshawy, these documents appear to conclusively refute the idea, recently advocated by a number of officials and commentators, that if Islamist groups like the Brotherhood are engaged and invited into the democratic process, they can be part of reforming and democratising the region. He says the Brotherhood is clearly not, according to their latest statements, a “political movement using religion to gain support” but a “religious movement using politics to spread its values and beliefs,” values and beliefs which clash fundamentally with democracy and liberalism. For Elmenshawy’s full discussion, CLICK HERE.
Finally, the New York Times had an important piece a few days ago which highlighted the increasing sophistication of internet use by al-Qaeda linked and freelance Islamist terror supporters. In particular, the piece highlights the extent to which Western Muslims are being targeted, often successfully, by such frequently slick and hi-tech efforts,. For this valuable report on the internet’s growing role in Islamist terrorism, CLICK HERE.
Al Qaeda regroups in the tribal areas, the government falters. What is to be done?
by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Weekly Standard, 10/29/2007, Volume 013, Issue 07
If there were any doubt about the reach of militants in Pakistan, last week’s events should have put them to rest. The ostentatious procession celebrating the return home of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was tragically cut short by twin bombs that killed over 130 and wounded several hundred more on Thursday night. The attackers almost succeeded in killing Bhutto as well. The blast shattered the windows in her vehicle and set a police escort car ablaze. The sophistication of the attack was apparent from the outset, and the bombs may have been accompanied by sniper fire.
But extremist violence in Pakistan is hardly news. The raids against the militant Lal Masjid mosque on July 11 occurred in Islamabad, the capital city. Supporters of al Qaeda exist in the military and intelligence services; indeed, there may prove to be a link between militant infiltrators of these institutions and the attempt on Bhutto’s life. The mysterious fact that the streetlights were off and the phone lines dead during the attack further raises the possibility of collaboration with ideologically sympathetic low-level government officials. Still, the stronghold of militant activity in Pakistan is clearly the remote and mountainous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on the border with Afghanistan, where Pakistan has ceded more and more ground to al Qaeda and its allies over the past year.
The government’s successive concessions to militants have not always been viewed as defeats; indeed officials tried to spin them as successes. A year ago, after the signing of one agreement, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States told a network reporter, “The Waziristan accord is not a good thing–it’s a very good thing. It’s a new step.” Although the accords ceded control over significant portions of the FATA to tribal leaders aligned with al Qaeda and the Taliban, Washington was slow to sound the alarm. Some State Department officials defended the agreements, and President Bush himself offered tepid support during a September 2006 press conference with Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.
One year and three more accords later, all concede that the tribal areas are now the stronghold of al Qaeda’s senior leadership–probably including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. As in Afghanistan under the Taliban, terrorist training camps operate freely, believed by U.S. intelligence to number almost 30. The 9/11 Commission Report warned that to carry out a catastrophic act of terror like 9/11, an organization requires “time, space, and the ability to perform competent planning and staff work,” as well as “a command structure able to make necessary decisions and possessing the authority and contacts to assemble needed people, money, and materials.” Al Qaeda now enjoys both of these in Pakistan.
One result is the heightened terrorist threat manifest in the attack on Bhutto, but also in recent plots against the West. Last year U.S. and British authorities announced the disruption of an ambitious scheme to blow up airliners en route from Britain to the United States with liquid explosives. The operatives had trained at al Qaeda’s FATA camps and met with high-level operatives Matiur Rehman and Abu Ubaydah al-Masri in Pakistan. Homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff recently told ABC News that the plot, if successful, would have killed thousands. One day last month, authorities in Europe arrested two terrorist cells in Denmark and Germany. Both cells were allegedly planning attacks; both were in touch with high-level extremists in Pakistan and had members who had trained there. While these arrests represent a success for law enforcement, they also signal al Qaeda’s regeneration.
Al Qaeda’s rebound was several years in the making. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 toppled the Taliban, most of al Qaeda’s central leadership relocated to the FATA. Prompted by assassination attempts against Musharraf, Pakistan’s military mounted a campaign to flush al Qaeda out of the tribal areas–but it suffered so many losses that by September 2006 Musharraf felt he had no option but to deal with his would-be killers. His solution was the Waziristan accords, peace agreements that essentially ceded North and South Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda. As part of the accords, Pakistan’s military agreed that it would no longer carry out air or ground strikes in the tribal areas, that it would disband its human intelligence network, and that it would abandon outposts and border crossings throughout Waziristan. The accords even allowed non-Pakistani militants to continue to reside in Waziristan if they made an unenforceable promise to “keep the peace.”
The failure of these accords was predictable and almost immediate. Shortly after the accords were signed, a U.S. military official told the Associated Press that “American troops on Afghanistan’s eastern border have seen a threefold increase” in cross-border attacks from Pakistan. Since then, Pakistan has entered into similar treaties over the tribal areas of Bajaur, Swat, and Mohmand.
This leaves us with the present alarming picture: relative security for al Qaeda’s senior leadership, greater instability in Afghanistan, a steady flow of skilled terrorists coming out of training camps, and a systemic risk of catastrophic attack reminiscent of the risk we faced before 9/11. This occurs against the backdrop of Musharraf’s political impotence. Despite his electoral victory in October, Islamic extremists have sworn to topple him from power, and his clumsy handling of conflicts with his supreme court has destroyed his already dwindling support among liberal elites. Even the Bhutto assassination attempt has fueled anti-Musharraf propaganda, as rumors quickly spread that he was behind the attack–intending to use it as a pretext to impose martial law. Shadowy figures like Gen. Hamid Gul and Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, whose ideological sympathies lie with the Taliban and al Qaeda, lurk in the background. All of which conjueres up the “nightmare scenario”: a nuclear-armed state openly aligned with our terrorist enemies.
Thus far, American policy toward Pakistan has amounted to unconditional support for Musharraf, coupled with occasional air strikes against high-level al Qaeda targets in the tribal areas. Emblematic of the latter is an October 30, 2006, strike against a madrassa in a Bajaur village that allegedly served as an al Qaeda training camp. While Zawahiri may have been the strike’s target, the madrassa was affiliated with another key al Qaeda confederate, Faqir Mohammed, who had contracted a strategic marriage with a woman from the local Mamoond tribe. A U.S. Predator strike destroyed the school, but it hardly slowed down Mohammed, who gave an interview with NBC at the scene of the wreckage and later spoke at the funeral for the victims.
Nor is any satisfactory alternative military strategy on offer. One senior American military intelligence officer said it would take a sustained air campaign to deprive al Qaeda of its safe haven in the FATA. “We’re talking about a Serbia-style prolonged campaign,” he said. NATO’s air campaign against Serbia’s military lasted from March 24 through June 11, 1999, and comprised over 38,000 missions involving approximately 1,000 aircraft and a barrage of Tomahawk missiles. Such a campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the officer said, would “heavily degrade” but not eliminate al Qaeda. “Their camps won’t be actively producing terrorists,” he said, “but they’ll survive the air campaign.” Furthermore, a campaign on that scale might result in the toppling of Musharraf–who, in the vivid phrase of retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, is already “dancing on razor blades.”
No analyst I spoke with thought we could do much better than the strategy of covert pinprick strikes that the United States and Pakistan are currently employing, wherein Pakistan frequently takes responsibility for U.S. strikes. This will not deprive al Qaeda of its safe haven, although it may occasionally yield important kills.
What about covert action? American Special Operations forces are already engaging in actions coordinated with the air strikes. The most notable achievement in this regard occurred in southern Afghanistan, where NATO and Afghan forces killed Mullah Dadullah Lang, the Taliban’s top military commander, back in May. There are barriers, though, to expanding the Special Operations forces’ role. The topography makes it difficult to insert and remove forces without being detected. Within the military, there is a real desire to avoid another Operation Eagle Claw–the ill-fated attempt to rescue hostages held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran during President Carter’s term.
Unfortunately, the potential for things going awry is high if Special Operations missions are increased. Special Operations forces act in small teams and are lightly armed, so could be overwhelmed by larger contingents of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Enemy forces in Pakistan are better armed and trained than the Somali forces in the Black Hawk Down incident, and they have SA-18 surface-to-air missiles capable of downing American helicopters.
There is always the option of a full-scale counterinsurgency operation in the FATA, including the insertion of American ground troops. Some commentators favor this approach. Steve Schippert, the managing editor of Threats-Watch, told me, “At the end of the day, there is no getting around that if al Qaeda is going to be defeated in Pakistan, it will take our boots on the ground.” Military affairs analyst Bill Roggio agrees that in an ideal world we would conduct counterinsurgency operations jointly with Pakistan’s armed forces, but deems this not feasible in the current political context: We lack both resources and the will to take the casualties it would require. Roggio is almost certainly right–and, again, the insertion of American ground forces would heighten the risk of Musharraf’s being toppled from power.
Pakistan’s military, meanwhile, does not appear to be up to the task of confronting the militants. It is unclear what level of casualties caused Musharraf to call off the attempt to control the tribal areas and make a deal with the extremists; the numbers are secret and estimates vary widely. Most observers believe Pakistan has lost about 1,000 men in its fight to control the FATA, but some believe it has lost more soldiers in this fight than the United States has lost in Iraq. Then, too, Pakistani soldiers have shown reluctance to fight their “Muslim brothers.” This unwillingness was bolstered by a fatwa issued in 2004 by clerics Mohammed Abdul Aziz and Abdur Rashid Ghazi stating that Pakistani soldiers killed in South Waziristan deserved neither a Muslim funeral nor burial in a Muslim cemetery.
Where does the dearth of military options leave us? Pakistan’s government could still play an important role despite its military’s weakness. Seth Jones, of the RAND Corporation, argues that the centerpiece of U.S. strategy should be diplomatic pressure on Islamabad, once the political situation in Pakistan is calmer. “We need a clear diplomatic message,” Jones said. “Al Qaeda is regenerated, and a number of recent terror plots are linked back to its tribal areas. Pakistan faces a choice not too different from what it faced on 9/11.”
U.S. assistance, Jones says, should be tied directly to the arrest or killing of key al Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri. “The threat then would be that if we can’t get clear progress in a measurable timeframe, this would leave the United States in the unfortunate position of having to significantly decrease its assistance to Pakistan and move in the direction of India,” he says. Jones thinks this pressure should be aimed at getting Pakistan’s military and intelligence services to undertake a “clear and hold strategy” against al Qaeda safe havens–not as a military offensive, but a police and intelligence operation.
Others favor an even more aggressive Pakistani role, beginning with a declaration that the treaties concerning the tribal areas are dead. There is ample justification for renouncing the accords, which the Taliban violated from the outset by killing Pakistani troops, sending its fighters into Afghanistan to fight coalition forces, and setting up separate governmental entities.
If Pakistan nullified the FATA agreements, there are aggressive measures it could take without risking its troops in the tribal areas. Musharraf could treat the FATA as a hostile province and impede militants’ movements by erecting fences along the perimeter (as Pakistan has done on parts of its border with India) and establishing an internal passport system. Anybody who traveled out of the FATA could be treated as though he were entering from an enemy nation, and would be subject to search and questioning. Impeding the movement of FATA-based extremists would not only hinder their efforts, but also help coalition forces in Afghanistan to track who had visited the high-risk FATA. As one senior American military intelligence officer put it, “FATA should become Taiwan to Pakistan’s China.”
The major problem with this approach is that it hinges on Musharraf. He was presented with a sterling opportunity to cancel the accords earlier this summer, after Pakistani forces raided the Lal Masjid. That mosque had been a center for the recruitment of fighters and suicide bombers to combat coalition forces in Afghanistan. Militants in the tribal areas responded to the raid with rage and vows of revenge. A number of attacks on Pakistani forces were launched from the FATA thereafter, in clear violation of the accords. Musharraf talked tough talk, but he never declared the accords dead–and ultimately reaffirmed his commitment to withdraw all Pakistani troops from tribal areas by year’s end.
Musharraf’s reluctance to abandon the accord framework does not mean he will never do so. The United States has not applied sustained pressure on this issue, and it should. It should develop a basket of incentives to persuade Musharraf to junk the agreements. Still, even as it hopes for the best from Pakistan, Washington should be prepared for continuing inaction.
American successes in Iraq over the past year may hold some lessons for tackling the problem in Pakistan. A critical factor in the turnaround during the tenure of Gen. David Petraeus as the top U.S. commander in Iraq has been our improved ability to align with tribal elements that oppose the brutality of al Qaeda. The Anbar Salvation Front–a collection of Sunni tribesmen, Iraqi nationalists, ex-Baathists, and others united in the goal of driving al Qaeda from their country–has been a vital ally in destroying the safe haven al Qaeda had enjoyed in Iraq’s Anbar province. We won’t quickly find an ally in Pakistan as capable as the late Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, who led the Anbar Salvation Front, but the broader lesson is the need to understand local actors and rely on more than our sheer military might.
One expert on irregular warfare who frequently consults with the federal government argues that the Anbar Salvation Front model should be considered for Pakistan. Though her ideas are “the starting point for a conversation” rather than a well-developed proposal, she notes surface similarities between Iraq and Pakistan. “You have multiple tribes,” she said, “some of which have been in conflict and some of which have been aligned. The way people make their living is also similar. There are settled tribes that live by agriculture, and tribes that have lived by smuggling, banditry, and tribal warfare.” The Pakistani tribes apparently differ in their approach to al Qaeda, too, the northern tribes being more welcoming than the southern tribes.
“There are people within the Pakistani tribes who don’t buy into the Taliban’s concept of Islam,” this analyst said. “They don’t believe this is the correct way to practice the religion. To me this suggests that there are fissures, both ideological and tribal, that can be exploited.” But exploiting them will take a good deal of time, give our lack of cultural and institutional understanding. “Before you start getting involved in these situations,” a senior American military intelligence officer told me, “you need to know who is whose enemy, which groups are backing the Taliban and al Qaeda. At the clan and tribal level, we don’t have a good idea of this.” Such knowledge could perhaps be gleaned from our Afghan allies, since neither Pashtun nor Baluch society recognizes the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While working to develop local allies, the United States can also implement tactics other than pinprick bombing. This is especially important at a micro-level. Al Qaeda draws its strength from specific individuals and clans inside Pakistan, including powerful allies in the military and intelligence service, tribal sheiks, and figures in the underground economy. We need to better understand the patronage networks that al Qaeda and the Taliban benefit from, and undermine them.
On the one hand, the United States can use a variety of sticks. It can support tribal groups that oppose al Qaeda and the Taliban against rivals who favor them. It can work with Pakistani and other intelligence services to shut down the businesses of individuals involved in the financial apparatus that backs our enemies–such as organized crime kingpin Dawood Ibrahim–obtaining blackmail information on them and arresting their operatives.
David E. Kaplan, who investigated the nexus between organized crime and terrorism for U.S. News & World Report, believes there is no easy way to stop the flow of money to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Although it is known that al Qaeda benefits from the drug trade, controlling smuggling routes from Afghanistan to Pakistan and taxing each shipment, a solution to regional drug trafficking remains elusive. “If you go after opium growers,” he said, “you’ll undercut [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai’s government because a lot of these guys back him.” Kaplan says attempts are being made now to go after factions involved in the narcotics trade that back al Qaeda and the Taliban rather than those that back Karzai, “but the lines aren’t always clear. The narcotics industry is diffuse, with lots of different players.”
Kaplan does think that attempting to shut down sources of al Qaeda and Taliban funding within Pakistan’s underground economy holds promise, given the American authorities’ experience with combating multinational criminal organizations. “Look at how we broke the U.S. mafia in the past twenty years,” he said. “But the bad news is that these guys are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The DEA didn’t even have an office in Afghanistan until after 9/11, so they have a lot of catching up to do.”
The senior U.S. military intelligence officer quoted above believes we should be ready to undermine support for the Taliban and al Qaeda within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and military. “A large number of ISI agents who are responsible for helping the Taliban and al Qaeda should be thrown in jail or killed,” he said. “What I think we should do in Pakistan is a parallel version of what Iran has run against us in Iraq: giving money, empowering actors. Some of this will involve working with some shady characters, but the alternative–sending U.S. forces into Pakistan for a sustained bombing campaign–is worse.”
Seth Jones of RAND is cautious about this approach because of the heavy support for the Taliban within the ISI. He notes that militants are supported not just by rogue elements but seemingly at the top levels as well. Certainly top leaders of ISI show little interest in arresting their own.
Not only sticks, of course, but also carrots could be used to entice actors in Pakistan to turn against al Qaeda. For example, the United States could enhance the prestige of commanders and units within Pakistan’s military who willingly cooperated in efforts to root out extremism in the tribal areas. America could make sure they had the best equipment by earmarking aid for specific regiments or commanders. Similarly, U.S. military training could focus on units and commanders who had demonstrated their willingness to undertake military or policing efforts against extremist groups.
Whatever road we take in Pakistan will involve a substantial time commitment, and progress is likely to be slow. American policymakers and analysts still have a state-centric orientation, and have poorly incorporated non-traditional actors into their strategic thinking. The long process of improving our understanding of the Pakistani political scene at a granular level is essential to success.
Every option for moving forward has its associated challenges and pitfalls. But, contrary to some pessimistic views, we do have options. We are not doomed to remain on our present course–supporting Musharraf no matter what he does and bombing targets of opportunity, with no plan for destroying al Qaeda’s new safe haven. That course is plainly ineffective. Worse, it may be preparing the way for another catastrophic terrorist attack on the United States–an attack that would inevitably lead to major military action. Rather than continue to drift toward a wholesale air campaign or ground invasion that threatens to bring still greater instability and danger, we would do far better to act now, using every means at hand to craft an alternative strategy.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam. He is grateful for the assistance of Joshua Goodman in the preparation of this article.
The group’s latest thinking reveals a troubling agenda.
By Mohamed Elmenshawy
Christian Science Monitor, October 12, 2007
Washington-If Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were alive today, he would celebrate the expansion of his Islamist vision. As evidenced by the latest version of the Muslim Brotherhood’s recently released political party platform, the late Iranian leader’s dream of spreading the ideology of Islamic revolution is gaining ground in Egypt, the largest Sunni Arab country.
The draft is just that – a draft still open to adjustment, reflecting ongoing debate within the Brotherhood itself about its stances before it publishes the final version of the platform. Still, the preliminary program that it outlines doesn’t herald the democratic values the Brotherhood has claimed to hold in previous public statements and addresses. Instead, it calls for the adoption of a “Civic Islamic State.”
Perhaps the most alarming feature of the draft platform is the call to create a Majlis Ulama, or Council of Islamic Scholars, that could end up being elected by Islamic clerics, not through free and fair elections. Reminiscent of Iran’s Guardian Council, this undemocratically selected body could have the power vested by the state to veto any and all legislation passed by the Egyptian parliament and approved by the president that is not compatible with Islamic sharia law.
The Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, has been outlawed by the Egyptian government since 1954. Today, it packages itself as a moderate organization, and its members hold 88 seats (about a fifth) in the Egyptian parliament as independents. Many Egyptians have long sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood in its struggle against an increasingly authoritarian regime. It was hard not to feel for the banned organization when its members faced the harsh treatment of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s military tribunals.
Still, having gone since 1928 without releasing any official party platform, the Muslim Brotherhood has escaped an honest and critical review – until now. In publishing this draft, it missed a golden opportunity to prove its pro-democratic stance.
The Muslim Brotherhood should have looked to Turkey as a model for how to integrate Islam into a secular system. The Turkish parliament’s recent election of the Justice and Development Party candidate Abdullah Gul to the presidency produced a proudly Muslim president committed to guarding Turkey as a secular state. In stark contrast to President Gul, Mohamed Habib, the Muslim Brotherhood’s second-in-command said in an interview in August, “Islam is the state religion. No secular citizen is allowed to publicize his secularism, and no laws against the sharia.”
The Brotherhood’s consistent call for a purely Islamic state can only mean the marginalization of secular opposition voices.
Also alarming is that the draft document would discriminate on the grounds of gender and religion by denying women and members of Egypt’s Christian Coptic community the right to run for presidential office.
The rise to power of a Muslim Brotherhood based on this new party platform could spell disaster for Egypt’s already tenuous relations with Israel. In the same interview, Mr. Habib assured his followers that the Brotherhood would not recognize the “Zionist entity” or “unjust” international treaties, in reference to the peace treaty signed with Israel in 1979.
Many people used to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood was simply a political movement using religion to gain support and present itself in contrast to the ruling National Democratic Party, but now it appears that the inverse is true. The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious movement using politics to spread its values and beliefs.
In the wake of 9/11, many analysts have called on the American administration and policymakers to engage with so-called moderate Islamists in the Arab world. While engagement is necessary, and greater diplomatic efforts should be encouraged, the Brotherhood’s dangerous political platform should be questioned. Before opening a dialogue with any group – even one that has renounced violence, as the Brotherhood has – there needs to be an examination as to whether a political organization that categorically denies equality on the basis of religion and gender can be lauded as moderate, and whether engagement can lead to positive political reform and democratization.
Egypt is in desperate need of new political blood. With the dictatorial nature of Mr. Mubarak’s 26-year rule and the recent sentencing of several editors in chief, the Egyptian people want a viable alternative.
But the Muslim Brotherhood’s new platform dispels the hope that it could be the lifeline Egypt needs to start becoming a true liberal democracy.
The Egyptian people, lacking a vibrant and diverse political arena, are left to choose between the devil they know and the devil they are now beginning to know.
Mohamed Elmenshawy is editor in chief of Taqrir Washington and Arab Insight, a project of the World Security Institute in Washington, D.C.
By MICHAEL MOSS and SOUAD MEKHENNET
New York Times, October 15, 2007
When Osama bin Laden issued his videotaped message to the American people last month, a young jihad enthusiast went online to help spread the word.
“America needs to listen to Shaykh Usaamah very carefully and take his message with great seriousness,” he wrote on his blog. “America is known to be a people of arrogance.”
Unlike Mr. bin Laden, the blogger was not operating from a remote location. It turns out he is a 21-year-old American named Samir Khan who produces his blog from his parents’ home in North Carolina, where he serves as a kind of Western relay station for the multimedia productions of violent Islamic groups.
In recent days, he has featured “glad tidings” from a North African militant leader whose group killed 31 Algerian troops. He posted a scholarly treatise arguing for violent jihad, translated into English. He listed hundreds of links to secret sites from which his readers could obtain the latest blood-drenched insurgent videos from Iraq.
His neatly organized site also includes a file called “United States of Losers,” which showcased a recent news broadcast about a firefight in Afghanistan with this added commentary from Mr. Khan: “You can even see an American soldier hiding during the ambush like a baby!! AllahuAkbar! AllahuAkbar!”
Mr. Khan, who was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up in Queens, is an unlikely foot soldier in what Al Qaeda calls the “Islamic jihadi media.” He has grown up in middle-class America and wrestles with his worried parents about his religious fervor. Yet he is stubborn. “I will do my best to speak the truth, and even if it annoys the disbelievers, the truth must be preached,” Mr. Khan said in an interview.
While there is nothing to suggest that Mr. Khan is operating in concert with militant leaders, or breaking any laws, he is part of a growing constellation of apparently independent media operators who are broadcasting the message of Al Qaeda and other groups, a message that is increasingly devised, translated and aimed for a Western audience.
Terrorism experts at West Point say there are as many as 100 English language sites offering militant Islamic views, with Mr. Khan’s — which claims 500 regular readers — among the more active. While their reach is difficult to assess, it is clear from a review of extremist material and interviews that militants are seeking to appeal to young American and European Muslims by playing on their anger over the war in Iraq and the image of Islam under attack.
Tedious Arabic screeds are reworked into flashy English productions. Recruitment tracts are issued in multiple languages, like a 39-page, electronic, English version of a booklet urging women to join the fight against the West.
There are even online novellas like “Rakan bin Williams,” about a band of Christian European converts who embraced Al Qaeda and “promised God that they will carry the flag of their distant brothers and seek vengeance on the evil doers.”
Militant Islamists are turning grainy car-bombing tapes into slick hip-hop videos and montage movies, all readily available on Western sites like YouTube, the online video smorgasbord.
“It is as if you would watch a Hollywood movie,” said Abu Saleh, a 21-year-old German devotee of Al Qaeda videos who visits Internet cafes in Berlin twice a week to get the latest releases. “The Internet has totally changed my view on things.”
An 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.
Propaganda Rap Video
One of the most influential sites is Tajdeed, which is based in London and run by Dr. Muhammad Massari, a Saudi physicist and dissident. Over lunch at a McDonald’s near his home, Dr. Massari said Mr. Zarqawi’s insurgent videos from Iraq inspired local productions like “Dirty Kuffar,” the Arabic word for nonbeliever. The 2004 rap music video mixed images of Western leaders with others purporting to show American troops cheer as they shot injured Iraqi civilians.
Dr. Massari, who helped promote the video, said similar crossover productions soon followed and made their way to his Web site.
“I never touch the videos that are on my forums,” said Dr. Massari, who wears a long white Arabic robe. “Someone with Al Qaeda uploads them, probably at Internet cafes, to password-protected sites. Then they call a friend, say, in Australia or Brasília, and say, ‘Hi Johnny, your mom is traveling today.’ That is the code to download the video. It goes up and down like that a few times, with no trace, until someone posts a link on my site.”
Last spring, Al Qaeda made what analysts say was a bold attempt to tap potential supporters in the United States. In a videotaped interview, Ayman al-Zawahri, a bin Laden lieutenant, praised Malcolm X and urged American blacks and other minorities to see that “we are waging jihad to lift oppression from all of mankind.”
The tape quickly found an audience. Mr. Zawahri “cares about black people,” wrote a blogger with Vibe, the American hip-hop and urban culture magazine, which claims 1.6 million visits a month. “At least, I think that’s why he’s quoting Malcolm X in his latest mix tape, which dropped last weekend.”
Umar Lee, a 32-year-old Muslim convert from St. Louis, offered a stinging critique of Mr. Zawahri on his blog for Muslim Americans, criticizing “the second-class status many blacks live in right in the Arab World.” Soon, Mr. Lee’s blog churned with commentary on the parallels between Arab and black American radicals.
A four-minute version of the hourlong Qaeda video, entitled “To Black Americans,” has logged more than 1,800 views on YouTube in the four months since it was posted.
Among those who posted a link to the YouTube version was Mr. Khan, the North Carolina blogger who said he was struck by the simplicity in the messages of both Al Qaeda and Malcolm X. “They are geniuses for having the ability to mold their ideology into simple yet influential messages that can reach the grass-roots level,” he said.
Mr. Khan produces his blog anonymously, but was identified by The Times through the e-mail account he used in previous online discussions. (Pictures he had posted online helped The Times distinguish him from another, unrelated North Carolina resident, about 10 years older, who has the same name.)
In an interview at a local mosque, where he sat on a prayer rug wearing a traditional Arabic robe, Mr. Khan traced his increasing militancy.
His blog has attracted enough notoriety that vigilante groups opposed to jihadi sites have gotten him shut down a few times in recent months. He said he was somewhat surprised he had not been confronted by government authorities, although, he said, “I’ve never told anybody to build bombs.”
His early postings, beginning in 2003, promoted strengthening Islam in North America through nonviolent confrontations. But with the escalating war in Iraq, bloodshed became a recurrent theme.
He described his favorite video from Iraq: a fiery suicide-bomber attack on an American outpost.
“It was something that brought great happiness to me,” he said. “Because this is something America would never want to admit, that they are being crushed.”
Asked how he felt living among people who had sent soldiers to Iraq, Mr. Khan said: “Whatever happens to their sons and daughters is none of my concern. They are people of hellfire and I have no concern for them.”
A Teenage Transformation
Born in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Khan was 7 when his family moved to New York City and settled into the Queens neighborhood of Maspeth.
He mirrored his teenage peers, from their slang to their baggy pants, until August 2001 when, at age 15, he said, he attended a weeklong summer camp at a mosque in Queens, which was sponsored by a fundamentalist but nonviolent group now known as the Islamic Organization of North America (IONA).
“They were teaching things about religion and brotherhood that captivated me,” Mr. Khan said. He said he went back to school knowing “what I wanted to do with my life: be a firm Muslim, a strong Muslim, a practicing Muslim.”
He prayed more regularly. He dressed more modestly. He stopped listening to music except for Soldiers of Allah, a Los Angeles hip-hop group, now defunct, whose tunes like “Bring Islam Back” continue to have worldwide appeal among militant youths.
He also befriended members of the Islamic Thinkers Society, a tiny group that promotes radical, nonviolent Islam by leafleting in Times Square and Jackson Heights, Queens.
After moving with his family to North Carolina in 2004, Mr. Khan said, he attended a community college for three years and earned money selling various products, including kitchen knives.
But he began spending chunks of his days on the blog he created in late 2005, “Inshallahshaheed,” which translates as “a martyr soon if God wills.” The Internet traffic counter Alexa.com, which rarely is able to measure the popularity of blogs because they do not have enough readers, ranked his among the top one percent of one hundred million Internet sites in the world.
If Mr. Khan’s extreme rhetoric has won him a wider audience, it has caused him problems at home. Last year, his father tried to pull him back to the family’s more moderate views by asking an imam to intervene.
“I tried to bring arguments from the Koran and scholars, and said, ‘Whatever you are thinking it is not true,’” said Mustapha Elturk, a family friend and the leader of IONA, the Islamic organization that first inspired Mr. Khan. But Mr. Khan did not budge, he said.
Mr. Khan said he separated from IONA over one matter: the organization would not support violent jihad without the endorsement of a Muslim nation’s leader, which Mr. Khan argues is unnecessary.
Mr. Elturk said, “His father and family are really scared that he might do something.”
Attempts to Shut Down Blog
From time to time, Mr. Khan said, his father also cut off his Internet access and, to placate him, Mr. Khan recently added a disclaimer to his blog disavowing responsibility for the views expressed on the site.
He has also been fending off citizen watchdogs who are working to knock sites likes his off the Internet. Twice in September his blog went dark when his service provider shut him down, citing complaints about the nature of his postings.
Mr. Khan has now moved his blog to a site called Muslimpad, whose American operators recently moved from Texas to Amman, Jordan. Their larger forum, Islamic Network, is the host of discussions among English-speaking Muslims. One of their former employees, Daniel Maldonado, was convicted this year in federal court of associating with terrorists at their training camps in Somalia.
Mr. Khan said that he had dreams about meeting Mr. bin Laden and that he would not rule out picking up a weapon himself one day. In a recent essay, he argued that jihad was mandatory for all Muslims, and he cited three ways to fulfill this obligation: join fighters in Iraq, Afghanistan or Algeria; send them money; or promote militant videos as part of the jihad media.
For now, he said, he is fulfilling his obligations by helping other Muslims understand their religion. Recently he posted a video of a news report from Somalia showing a grenade-wielding American who had joined the Islamists.
“He is an example of a Muslim who follows the Religion of Islaam,” Mr. Khan wrote.
Michael Moss reported from Jordan, Lebanon, Germany, London and North Carolina; and Souad Mekhennet from Jordan, Lebanon and Germany. Margot Williams and Hoda Osman contributed from New York.