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Al-Qaida raises tempo of video releases amid signs of propaganda success

(APW) Al-Qaida’s latest offensive appears to be taking place on computer and television screens, and uses techniques associated more with Madison Avenue than Fallujah. 

Although viewership is difficult to measure accurately, analysts say the group’s videos appear to be reaching a wider audience than ever, piggybacking on the popularity of blogs and video sharing programs like YouTube. 

Key to the operation are a pair of broadcast anchors, American Adam Yehiye Gadahn and Libyan firebrand Abu Laith al-Libi, who have appeared so many times they’re practically becoming household names. 

“You’re losing on all fronts, and losing big time,” Gadahn, who also goes by the name Azzam al-Amriki, told U.S. President George W. Bush in an Internet video posted this week on YouTube. 

Al-Qaida’s As-Sahab media wing has already released 48 videos this year, on a pace to double last year’s output of 58 videos, according to Virginia-based IntelCenter, a firm that tracks and analyzes the material. In 2005, the terror group only released 16 videos. 

Iraqi insurgent groups, including an al-Qaida affiliate, are also boosting their video output and quality. Even the technology-rejecting Taliban, which frowned upon cameras when it ruled Afghanistan, has been filming and releasing videos. 

“They’re all ramping up their propaganda campaigns,” said Jeremy Binnie, a terrorism analyst with the London consultancy Jane’s. “We’ve got enough case studies that show the jihadist media does play a role in radicalizing people.” 

Gadahn, once a California heavy metal aficionado named Adam Perlman, changed his name, his religion and his attitude toward his native land and appears to have taken a job as al-Qaida’s news anchor. U.S. authorities charged him with treason, perhaps acknowledging the credibility that an American convert lends to al-Qaida’s message. 

An Internet link introduced his latest clip as a “Message from the Mujahedeen Brother” and shows Gadahn’s talking head, with his familiar flowing beard, glasses and turban. 

As-Sahab, which is thought to be based in Pakistan, is spoon-feeding its audiences and the media outlets that report its messages. 

The production unit releases its offerings in multiple video formats that can even play on mobile phones. One recent release offered English-speakers the opportunity to listen to the original Arabic and read subtitles or opt for English dubbing, said Ben Venzke, IntelCenter’s chief executive. 

Text transcripts for media coverage of the speeches are routinely issued in Arabic and English and sometimes French and Urdu, Venzke said. The videos are slicker than ever, featuring promotional title screens and animated graphics. A couple recent versions were shot in wide-screen format, Venzke said. 

“We’re expecting their next step to be high-definition TV,” Venzke said. 

Signs point to the heightened release tempo being a deliberate strategy directed by al-Qaida’s senior leadership. Recent video from al-Qaida’s No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Libi have stressed the importance of as-Sahab’s video work. Al-Libi recently urged Islamic insurgents in Somalia, who have mostly ignored the medium, to begin using video releases to create global awareness of their fight, Venzke said. 

“The exposure these things get now is very significant and moves quickly,” Venzke said. “Just look at the media coverage alone, not just in the States (U.S.) but all over the world. Younger people share these videos just like you and I share text e-mails. Some of these are getting huge exposure.” 

Audiences vary from budding terrorists to those bent on stopping them, and all shades in between. 

Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said he watched and re-watched a recent video from a man claiming to be al-Qaida’s new leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed, to get a flavor for the man’s intelligence and grasp of objectives. 

“You get a personal connection to these people through video,” Alani said. “I was impressed with his speech and the way he presented the policies of al-Qaida.” 

The speakers on the videos have earned a grudging level of credibility among analysts like Alani because their messages often carry specific data about attacks that can be more accurate than those disseminated by the media or governments. 

For instance, a Gulf Research Center study on suicide bombings issued this spring gave more weight to al-Zawahiri’s claim that al-Qaida in Iraq had conducted around 800 suicide attacks than the Iraqi government’s figure of 500. 

“I tend to believe Ayman al-Zawahiri more than the Iraqi government,” Alani said. 

More alarmingly, the slick videos in English may be useful in recruiting the most dangerous kind of terrorist: someone who has a western passport and is familiar with the culture of the country he wants to attack, like the British citizens of Pakistani origin who planned the London underground bombings. 

“They’re interested in influencing that audience,” Binnie said. “It’s easier to conduct operations in the U.K. or the U.S. if you’ve already got a passport and know the culture.”

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June 1, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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