The Global Jihad Internet Forum Launches New Sub-forum Dedicated to Anwar al-‘Awlaqi: A Sign of His Growing Influence?
May 30, 2011 5 Comments
The Global Jihad (al-Jihad al-‘Alami) jihadi-takfiri Internet forum has launched a new sub-forum/section (qism) dedicated to the lectures of Anwar al-‘Awlaqi (Awlaki, Aulaqi), the militant American Muslim preacher currently in Yemen and believed to be a member of or affiliated with Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The Arabic announcement reads: “Glad tidings, the inauguration/opening of a sub-forum/section for the lectures of Shaykh Anwar al-‘Awlaqi, may God protect him.”
The inauguration (or “opening [for the first time],” to use a more direct translation of the Arabic announcement) of a new sub-forum on one of the most prominent Arabic-language jihadi-takfiri Internet forums is significant in that it provides further evidence of al-‘Awlaqi’s growing appeal outside of his original English-language audience base. The last three major videos or audio messages he’s been featured in or recorded have all been in Arabic. Two videos, an “interview” produced by AQAP’s Al-Malahem (Malahim; Epics, Epic Battles) Media Foundation that was released in May 2010 and an independently-released (it seems) November 2010 video message were both released first in Arabic and only later in an English translation.
Various lectures and writings of his have been translated into a growing number of languages used by jihadi-takfiris including Urdu, Russian, Somali, Arabic, Indonesian, French, German, and Bosnian. Al-‘Awlaqi has also slowly but steadily become a more popular figure in graphic artwork produced by cyber jihadi-takfiris and posted to Arabic Internet forums.
Despite the growing evidence suggesting that his influence is increasing over a broader spectrum of the jihadi-takfiri community (or communities), his exact role, if any, in AQAP remains unknown and debated. Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen has pointed out that al-‘Awlaqi’s role in AQAP is frequently exaggerated in North American and European media because he is more well known to its journalists and speaks English. Johnsen has also argued that the militant preacher’s role, however, is likely not as key to AQAP as the roles of its senior leadership, which includes amir Nasir al-Wihayshi, deputy amir Sa’id al-Shihri, senior military commander Qasim al-Raymi, and chief ideologue ‘Adel al-‘Abab. In a critique of Johnsen’s argument, Thomas Hegghammer argued in a November 2010 Foreign Policy magazine online article that al-‘Awlaqi is likely AQAP’s head of foreign operations and thus should be a primary target of intelligence agencies. Anonymous U.S. government sources claim that evidence was uncovered in Usama bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout that the Al-Qa’ida Central founder dismissed a change in AQAP’s leadership from al-Wihayshi to al-‘Awlaqi, though the evidence of this claim remains unavailable for critical examination.
Whether or not al-‘Awlaqi is a member of AQAP, he is part of an informal group of charismatic scholar (or preacher)-ideologues who provide AQC, AQAP, and their sister movements with a unique mix of, however contested, an element of juridical authority, personal charisma, and rhetorical and oratorical skills. Together with figures such as Abu Yahya al-Libi, ‘Atiyyatullah bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Libi, and Khalid al-Husaynan, al-‘Awlaqi serves as part of the vanguard of the transnational jihadi-takfiri trend’s charismatic “missionaries of jihad,” an argument I develop further in a forthcoming article.