Since the September 11 attacks, the internet has emerged as a pillar of radical Islamist propaganda efforts against the United States by al-Qaeda and other groups. Extremist websites and chat forums provide radicals and sympathizers with moral and theological justification for acts of violence and terrorism, acts framed as legitimate self-defense against what is widely perceived as a U.S.-led campaign against Islam. The internet is also a platform for disseminating tactical, operational and strategic expertise, to include instructions on constructing explosives, analyses of battlefield lessons learned and discussions on targeting selection. Perhaps most importantly, the internet enables like-minded militants to associate and communicate anonymously in cyber social networks. This process reinforces their sense of purpose and duty and encourages solidarity with the greater cause. Up until recently, however, the overwhelming majority of extremist websites catered to Arabs and the Arabic-speaking Muslim community, with only a limited number of websites providing modest sections in English and other languages. This is no longer the case.
Led by the Islamic Army in Iraq, a host of English-language websites linked to Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups are on the forefront of efforts by militants to reach beyond their traditional support base and target foreign audiences, namely the American public, by providing English mirrors of their Arabic websites. The Islamic Army in Iraq is joined in this campaign by the Mujahideen Army, Ansar al-Sunnah, the al-Fataheen Army, the Islamic Front for Iraqi Resistance and the Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq (HAMAS). These groups operate under the auspices of the Reformation and Jihad Front, an insurgent umbrella group that has been critical of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq, especially the Islamic State in Iraq (http://iaisite-eng.org; http://www.reformandjihadfront.org).
Websites and chat forums linked to al-Qaeda tend to focus on radical ideological and theological discourse aimed at attracting recruits to their global cause. In contrast, Iraqi insurgents affiliated with the Reformation and Jihad Front use Islamist rhetoric combined with Iraqi nationalist discourse to relay regularly updated reports in English from the battlefield to American audiences. For example, a section titled “Military Operations” provides a virtual play-by-play account of alleged insurgent attacks against U.S. and other forces. These reports include the mode and scope of a given attack, as well as its exact time and location. They also include detailed assessments of U.S. casualties. A section titled “Filmed Operations” allows users to peruse a list of videos of insurgent strikes available for download, while the “Media Releases” section allows users to download propaganda videos and other materials in English. The website also includes regularly updated sections providing English translations of political statements and other reports. The quality of its graphics and presentation, as well as the amount of information presented, reflect the group’s Arabic website (http://www.iaisite.org).
The al-Boraq Media Organization—another website linked to the Islamic Army in Iraq—also includes an extensive English section (http://www.alboraq.info). The website of what is alleged to be a prolific sniper linked to the Islamic Army in Iraq—nicknamed “Juba” by U.S. forces—also includes English commentary, including claims of responsibility for the deaths of 668 U.S. soldiers and videos of sniping operations for download (http://www.baghdadsniper.net; Terrorism Focus, February 14). The Islamic Army in Iraq’s website also contains a link titled “Lee’s Life for Lies,” named after PFC Lee Kendall Tucker, a U.S. soldier whose USB flash drive was found by insurgents in January 2007. Insurgents used authentic data available on the flash drive, such as PFC Tucker’s social security number, along with false information to create a phony letter that was presented as having been authored by the soldier. The letter, which is read aloud in a video available for download using voiceover narration in American-accented English, describes a hopeless situation for U.S. forces in Iraq amid scenes of insurgent attacks and other chaos (http://d3130.servadmin.com/~leeflash/; http://www.lee-flash.blogspot.com).
The proliferation of sleek English-language websites targeting American audiences reflects a greater awareness on the part of Iraqi insurgents of the value of influencing domestic American public opinion. Certainly, one aim of these websites is to reach out to American Muslims and others who neither speak nor read Arabic. However, the websites linked to the Islamic Army in Iraq appear primarily concerned with tapping growing domestic popular opposition to the war in Iraq in the United States by depicting the situation on the ground as hopelessly dire for U.S. forces. The updated play-by-play accounts in English of alleged insurgent attacks and U.S. casualties, coupled with sleek presentation and video, allows the insurgents to speak directly to American audiences. By claiming responsibility for specific attacks resulting in U.S. casualties, the insurgents are also able to portray themselves as driving the tempo of the conflict, regardless of what the reality is on the ground. Given recent trends, militant groups in Iraq and elsewhere are increasingly likely to expand their propaganda efforts online through the use of English-language websites.