The US goes after epicenter of al-Qaida’s online network

Analysis: Target of strike, Anwar al-Awlaki, providing lethal online advice to jihadis in West.

awlaki al qaeda 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
awlaki al qaeda 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Thursday’s American drone missile strike on al-Qaida ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki represents an effort to go after the epicenter of the movement’s Internet-based network of jihadi followers.
Awlaki, a prominent Yemeni-American jihadi ideologue, became a symbol of the post-bin Laden al-Qaida network even before US Navy SEALs eliminated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last week.
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Due to its lack of a clear single physical haven following the loss of Afghanistan in 2001, al- Qaida has metamorphosed into a fluid, decentralized network of followers around the world whose only coherent link to one another is via the Internet.
Since fleeing the US to the ungoverned regions of Yemen, Awlaki has released slick, highquality online propaganda in English aimed at ensuring that the radical jihadi movement continues to gain new recruits.
He has also been operationally active, linked to at least three al-Qaida plots: The failed 2009 Christmas bombing plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit, the 2009 Fort Hood mass shooting, and the 2010 cargo flight explosives plot.
A brief look at Awlaki’s most recent message to the world, in the form of the March 2011 issue of the Inspire online magazine, reveals why he represents such an urgent target for American forces.
In response to a letter from a would-be jihadi in the West asking for advice on how to carry out attacks, the magazine said that carrying out mass murder terrorist attacks is “fard ayn” – meaning a religious obligation on all Muslims.
The term was first used in this way by the Palestinian jihadi cleric Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a mentor to bin Laden and author of a fatwa which has since become an electronic book called “Defense of the Muslim Lands” circulating in jihadi forums. The Inspire magazine then gives out detailed operational and tactical advice on how to carry out the attacks, and advises on how to avoid Western intelligence services.
The writer’s recently published book, Virtual Caliphate – Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet, deals with al-Qaida’s online presence.