By Brigitte L. Nacos
As brazen and lethal as today’s attack on the headquarters of the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo by jihadist gunmen was, it did not come as a complete surprise for those following the online propaganda and recruitment calls by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). AQAP for a good number of years and ISIS more recently call relentlessly on their followers in the West to strike the enemy in the diaspora instead of joining the “brothers” in Yemen, Syria, or elsewhere.
The typical propaganda tract first describes the deadly sins of the enemy. A good example is the following passage published in INSPIRE, the online magazine of AQAP:
“Outrageous slander, blatant smearing of Muĥammad, desecration of the Qur’ān, and the insulting of over a billion Muslims worldwide are done under the pretext of “freedom of speech”. They are never called what they really are: a deeply rooted historic hatred for Islām and Muslims. Yesterday it was in the name of Christianity; today it is in the name of Democracy.”
Passages like the above one explain why fanatical followers of the mentioned terrorist organizations targeted the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a newspaper known for its satirical depictions of politics and religion. While Christians, too, have often been outraged about the treatment of their religion in the newspaper’s cartoons and stories, they did not go on a killing spree in the editorial offices like the angry jihadists. The latter, like their AQAP and ISIS masters, consider the civil liberties in democracies as a shield in the West’s alleged attacks on Islam. But as French President François Hollande said during his visit of the site of horror, the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an assault on freedom of the press. Just as the violence following the publishing of the Danish cartoons a decade ago were attacks on fundamental values and rights in Western democracies.
Recognizing that a large number of participants in terrorist plots are easier to detect and foiled by the enemy, AQAP and ISIS recommend attacks by “lone wolves” and tiny cells in the West to strike the infidels.This was summarized in the following appeal published in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq:
“It is very important that attacks take place in every country that has entered into the alliance against the Islamic State, especially the US, UK, France, Australia, and Germany. Rather, the citizens of crusader nations should be targeted wherever they can be found…Every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader, and kill him. It is important that the killing becomes attributed to patrons of the Islamic State who have obeyed its leadership. This can easily be done with anonymity. Otherwise, crusader media makes such attacks appear to be random killings. Secrecy should be followed when planning and executing any attack. The smaller the numbers of those involved and the less the discussion beforehand, the more likely it will be carried out without problems. One should not complicate the attacks by involving other parties, purchasing complex materials, or communicating with weak-hearted individuals.”
Similarly, an Inspire article instructed,
“There are many Muslims [who] believe that in order to defend the ummah they need to travel and join the mujahidin elsewhere and they must train in their camps. But we tell the Muslims in America and Europe: There is a better choice and easier one to give support to your ummah. That is individual work inside the West…”
Often, these instructions note that the fewer people involved in a plot the smaller the risk of discovery by the authorities.
While Europe and especially France have been the preferred targets in the latest series of attacks, every Western country is well advised to heed these threats. As for the American homeland, it is noteworthy that whenever the jihadists enumerate their enemies, the U.S. is mentioned first.