Recent chatter on jihadi websites has focused on monitoring the counter-terrorism strategies of the United States and its allies in the global war on terrorism. Jihadi websites and forums are studying and translating the texts of Western analysts who assess current counter-terrorism efforts. The jihadis use these self-critiques by Western analysts to find areas of weakness and tension in U.S.-led counter-terrorism strategy; through this information, they are better able to devise physical and psychological operations to exploit these weaknesses. Additionally, their monitoring of U.S.-led counter-terrorism efforts is an attempt to lift the morale of jihadis by: showing that vulnerable points in the U.S.-led terrorism coalition exist; disseminating false analysis on the plans and intentions of those states allied against the mujahideen; and publicizing artificial casualty accounts of these states, especially those of the U.S. military.
By translating and posting reports about casualties from the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, jihadi websites are enhancing the mujahideen’s arguments of their righteousness; this encourages more fighters to take up the jihad. These individuals are monitoring U.S. military casualty reports on the internet and reposting them in Arabic for their forum participants. One casualty report about an attack by Iraq’s Islamic Army on the U.S. military’s Falcon Base in Iraq on October 10 listed the names and ranks of 300 American soldiers who were allegedly killed in the attack (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk/forums, October 26). The U.S. casualty report, posted by a user nicknamed Fata al-Jazeera, was received victoriously by the internet jihadis, who expressed their joy with victory phrases such as “Allah Akbar.” Another forum translated and posted the U.S. president’s skeptical comments about Washington’s performance in Iraq published in the National Review Online on October 27. The forum considered Bush’s comments a confession of the U.S. defeat in Iraq (http://184.108.40.206/vb/index.php). In the same context, another jihadi website posted an article entitled “America Loses Control in Afghanistan and European Forces Refuse to Fight.” The article highlighted the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann’s frustration over British forces’ uncoordinated withdrawal from Qala district in southern Afghanistan and the warning released by the supreme commander of NATO over the intention of Taliban fighters to use booby-trapped vehicles against coalition troops (http://www.muslm.net, October 27).
On the jihadi website al-Tajdeed, a translator by the nickname of “Morsi” translated an article entitled “How al-Qaeda Views a Long War in Iraq” by Dan Murphy, a journalist for the Christian Science Monitor. Murphy’s article analyzed al-Qaeda’s plans for a long war against the United States in Iraq. The analysis is based on a letter, confiscated by U.S. forces in Iraq, presumably sent to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and signed by the alias name “Atiyah.” In the same context, some jihadi forum participants are cooperating by translating videotapes released by the History television channel in the United States and by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. To demonstrate their intentions, they provided a video for download that included a program from the History Channel that outlined the capabilities of the U.S. Navy. Information included in the video could be used by al-Qaeda and like-minded militants to improve their capabilities against naval forces. Additionally, the jihadis are always interested in Western articles and television shows that analyze al-Qaeda; by using the West’s free press, they are able to find out what the “enemy” knows about their capabilities.
Commenting on a Washington Post article entitled “Letter Gives Glimpse of al-Qaeda’s Leadership” from October 2, jihadis accused the “Zionist media” of disseminating false propaganda insinuating that al-Qaeda’s leaders are in Pakistan’s tribal Waziristan agencies. They argued that this “faulty” information about al-Qaeda’s whereabouts is a pretext for “crusader aggression” on the Pakistani people to punish them for their support of the mujahideen. The jihadis argue that it is illogical for any al-Qaeda leader to reveal the whereabouts of al-Qaeda and that al-Zarqawi would never leave such an important letter behind. A forum participant nicknamed the “Hamburg Cell” warns that this press campaign against al-Qaeda’s leaders is very suspicious and that “vicious” plans might be underway against those leaders.
Although irregular and non-systematic, the monitoring of Western media analysis helps jihadis learn from the enemy and to better prepare defensive counter-measures. The question, however, can be asked: what makes these forum comments significant, and are these participants actually operational? It is likely that many participants have been in contact with jihadi ideologues and field commanders since these leaders use the forums to communicate with each other and to post training manuals and other jihadi documents—such as in the recent cases of Muhammed al-Hakaima and his controversial book, the “Myth of Delusion”; Abu Yahia al-Libi, a leading member in al-Qaeda; and Yusuf al-Uyayri, ex-leader of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and a renown ideologue of Salafi-Jihadis. Forum participants are constantly interested in subjects related to military tactics and terrorism, a fascination that non-violent individuals do not dwell on each time they log onto the internet.