What’s between the covers of al Qaeda’s ‘Inspire’ magazine

By Peter Van Buren
September 3, 2014

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Inspire is an English-language online magazine published since 2010 by al Qaeda. I just read the latest issue and found a lot of what I expected, and some things I didn’t.

Aimed primarily at radicalizing young audiences in the United States and Britain, the English language magazine appears semi-regularly (there have been 12 issues so far). Graphically well-done, the editorial parts of the magazine are a mix of religious and jihadi-inspirational pieces, reporting and bomb-making instructions.

Yep, bomb-making instructions. That’s the part that’s most controversial: the clear, step-by-step photo-illustrated instructions for making your own explosives using common materials, plus the encouragement to use them in crowded places.

The magazine was once thought to be the work of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen gone bad, who once preached at a Northern Virginia mosque and lunched at the Pentagon. Though al-Awlaki and his teenage son were assassinated by a U.S. drone in Yemen in 2011, the magazine continues to be published. Al-Awlaki’s thoughts are reprinted posthumously and still carry influence. That tells you pretty much all you need to know in two sentences about the failure of the war on terror.

Because reading and or possessing Inspire may be illegal in the UK and Australia, and viewing it in the U.S. likely to land you on some sort of watch list, I will give you a taste of what you would find instead.

The current issue of Inspire begins with an atypical editor’s note:

“The American government was unable to protect its citizens from pressure cooker bombs in backpacks, I wonder if they are ready to stop car bombs! Therefore, as our responsibility to the Muslim Ummah in general and Muslims living in America in particular, Inspire Magazine humbly presents to you a simple improvised home recipe of a car bomb. And the good news is… you can prepare it in the kitchen of your mom too.”

To be fair, to pull this off the kitchen of your mom has to be stocked with some pretty unusual stuff, like pressure gauges and tire valve stems,, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Further into the issue  are quotes by celebrities and regular people on news topics, most of them rants about American foreign policy. One of them,  claiming to be by a Muslim college student in the United States, stands out:

“I remember I had one professor that said that if he was in Iraq, he’d probably be on the other side. And I remember I was just looking at him thinking I’ll be in jail if I thought that.”

So while there is plenty of bloody jihad stuff written in poor English, it isn’t all that way in Inspire. One wonders if this approach, accidentally humorous and purposefully serious, is not actually an effective way to speak to disaffected youth.

Despite my promise, I did not actually read every word of the articles that began “Twelve years have passed since the blessed Battles of New York, Washington and Pennsylvania…” And when the writer asks, “Isn’t it saddening that Bo, Obama’s dog, dines with the taxpayers’ money on better food than that of 100 million Americans?” I know where they are going without reading the entire piece. Things alternate like that for most of the magazine. It’s a mix of thoughtful musings, weird unintelligible ramblings, Quranic quotes and a large dose of anti-Semitism  sprinkled liberally throughout. But things get deadly serious when the topic turns to making car bombs.

The magazine says it publishes the “open-source” bomb-making instructions  to allow willing fighters to “prepare for jihad,” all from the comfort of home. I am not a chemist, but the recipe seems easy to follow, thanks to the fact that it is broken down into simple steps with illustrating photos. Theory is tagged on to the practical lessons, such as when the writers explain how explosive combustion works, how pressure is measured and so forth. Different ignition switches are discussed, depending on whether you seek a timed explosion or intend a suicide attack where you’ll trip the bomb manually.

At the end of it all, one leaves with the impression that the manual is simple enough to actually make a successful bomb.

It would be unfair to close the pages of Inspire and say I felt anything but creeped-out. After all,,what starts as a laugh ends very seriously. So when you read other reports of what’s in Inspire, most of which focus on exaggerated fear-mongering or belittling the magazine, spare a thought for what the magazine is achieving: it makes you genuinely afraid. That’s what good propaganda does, it gets inside your head. Inspire is good propaganda.

PHOTO: Plastic masks with a likeness of Osama bin-Laden lie on an assembly line at a costume factory in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, October 30, 2001

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