Jihadists take on Western tilt

English-language sites on Web spread word

October 15, 2007|By New York Times News Service

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 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 slaughtered 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 Khan: "You can even see an American soldier hiding during the ambush like a baby!! AllahuAkbar! AllahuAkbar!"

Khan, who was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up in Queens, is an unlikely foot soldier in what al-Qaida 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," Khan said in an interview.

While there is nothing to suggest that 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-Qaida 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 along with 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 such as Rakan bin Williams, about a band of Christian European converts who embraced al-Qaida 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.

Al-Qaida 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.

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