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Self-Help for Terrorists

Al-Qaida's slick and sinister magazine for jihadis, Inspire, suggests using a vehicle to mow down a target

By Ian Black / Source: The Guardian

In the murky world of terrorism-watchers, the first port of call is often an unusual magazine called Inspire, a "self-help manual" for jihadis that is crammed full of dangerous advice, attractively presented.

So it comes as no surprise, in the wake of the Woolwich killing of an off-duty soldier, that the online publication's recommendations have included the use of a vehicle to mow down a target – apparently what happened outside the Royal Artillery barracks on Wednesday.

This 21st-century version of The Anarchists' Cookbook has a habit of turning up in unpleasant circumstances. In the wake of the Boston bombings in April, FBI investigators found that the explosive pressure cooker devices made by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were strikingly similar to a "recipe" in the first issue of Inspire, memorably entitled "How to build a bomb in your Mom's kitchen."

Its latest issue, number 10, proclaims on the home page: "Crusaders, you will never enjoy tranquility. Your nations will never enjoy security as long as we have pulsing veins and pumping hearts. We are coming by the will of Allah!"

In the "open-source jihad" section – "a resource manual for those who loathe the tyrants" – it offers useful practical tips: "Following simple instructions you can carry out a lethal ambush. There is no retaliation to face. Just place and vanish." (The illustration shows a masked man with a spike device to puncture car tyres.)

Inspire's USP is its chirpy, colloquial English style, apparently courtesy of its founder, Anwar al-Awlaki, an extremist American-Yemeni preacher who was raised in New Mexico but met his end, controversially, in a drone strike in September 2011. By coincidence, the US government formally admitted for the first time on Wednesday that it had killed him, even though he was a citizen who had never been charged with a crime.

Al-Qaida's famously slick and sinister mag first appeared in 2010 when the focus of the global "war on terror" was shifting from the Afghan-Pakistan border to faraway Yemen – the poorest country in the Arab world and a magnet for wannabe jihadis after their defeat in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Appearing in English rather than Arabic – a difficult language even for non-native speakers who are Muslims – made it widely accessible. There is also an Urdu version.

Dubbed "the Vanity Fair of terrorism", Inspire features prominently in professional literature on the "self-radicalisation" of extremists who find their way to al-Qaida or like-minded groups via computer screens in their bedrooms, rather than fighting kuffar ("infidels") in Afghanistan or Iraq. But the magazine has offered guidance to novices on what to expect at jihadist training camps and the rules recruits have to live by.

In addition to advice on bomb-making, encryption, manufacturing poisons or conducting surveillance, Inspire offers Quranic commentary and crude al-Qaida propaganda. Possession of it has led to prosecutions in the UK and Australia. But it has also been targeted by anonymous hackers seeking to curtail its influence: a suitable case, if ever there was one, for government cyber-warfare treatment.

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