After a nearly two-month lull in videos released by al Furqan, al Qaeda in Iraq’s primary propaganda arm, two new videos of attacks on US forces have been released over the past three days. Al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to reestablish its propaganda presence in Iraq, while Multinational Forces Iraq is seeking to dismantle the network.
“Despite the recent loss of numerous cells across Iraq, the media wing of al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) has produced a second video product, which the al Fajr Media Center posted Tuesday night on the main Jihadi message boards,” Nick Grace of Threatswatch reported. “The one minute video, called ‘Destruction Of An-American Hummer Vehicle,’ is the latest in the ongoing ISI media series ‘Roman and Apostate Hell in al-Rafedain Land’ and, according to the accompanying Web statement, shows an IED attack on a hummer in the az-Zobayer bin al-Awaam region of Diyala Province.” The first video released showed the brutal execution of nine Iraqis, purportedly Shia who served in the Interior Ministry’s police commando unit in Diyala province.
Multinational Forces Iraq began to heavily target al Qaeda’s media apparatus over the summer of 2007. The capture of Khalid Abdul Fatah Da’ud Mahmud al Mashadani, a senior al Qaeda in Iraq and Islamic State of Iraq leader and close associate of al Qaeda commander Abu Ayyub al Masri, was the first major blow against al Qaeda’s media network. Mashadani, also known as Abu Shahed, was al Qaeda’s media emir. He confirmed that Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the purported leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, is an imaginary figure created by himself and al Masri.
After Mashadani’s capture, the Coalition began rolling up numerous al Qaeda media cells and operatives of al Furqan. “Since the surge began, we’ve uncovered eight separate al Qaeda media offices and cells, have captured or killed 24 al Qaeda propaganda cell members and have discovered 23 terabytes of information,” said Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Forces Iraq during a press briefing at the end of October.
Since that briefing, several more cells have been dismantled and scores of al Qaeda media operatives have been killed or captured. During the month of November, Special Forces teams killed two media operatives and captured 44 suspected associates of the cells.
On November 12, Coalition Special Forces hunter-killer teams captured the media emir of Diyala province. In a separate operation in Samarra, the Special Forces teams “targeted an al-Qaeda media headquarters and safe house, also believed to be used by foreign terrorists.” One terrorist was killed after reaching for a suicide vest, while another seven were captured. Six days later, Special Forces “captured one wanted individual and detained 10 other suspects while targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq’s media network” in Baghdad and Samarra.
The city of Samarra and the surrounding regions have become a hub of activity for al Qaeda in Iraq’s propaganda outlets. From November 22-25, Coalition Special Forces hunter-killer teams conducted multiple raids against al Qaeda’s media and courier networks in the Samarra region. One member of al Qaeda’s media network was killed and 25 captured during a series of raids over the course of four days.
The flurry of activity began on November 22, when the Special Forces teams killed one member of a propaganda cell and captured two. In follow-on raids the next day, the teams captured seven members of al Qaeda’s media network. “One of the targeted buildings is believed to be used as a propaganda production facility and meeting location for senior leaders,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported.
Two days later, Coalition Special Forces teams captured a “wanted individual [who] is believed to be involved in al-Qaeda in Iraq media networks and was involved in attacks against Coalition forces.” Fourteen other al Qaeda media and courier operatives were captured during coordinated operations.
Based on the number of raids in Samarra, the city is clearly a major hub of activity for al Furqan, if not the headquarters for the media organization. Grace notes that while the jihadis are excited about the return of al Furqan videos, some members of the forums are stating the organization is now on the move.
“There is a tremendous amount of chatter on the Internet about al-Furqan’s sudden return,” Grace said. “Mujahideen inside Iraq have posted assurances on key Jihadi message boards that new videos are on the way but that they are in the process of moving. One fighter wrote that ‘it takes time for moving such an infrastructure and find a safe place with … traitors around.'”
Al Qaeda in Iraq has suffered serious setbacks in Iraq over the past year, and its media operations has not faired well under the Iraqi and Coalition onslaught. As noted at Threatswatch, al Qaeda in Iraq’s media wing is desperate to produce propaganda for multiple reasons. The terror group needs to demonstrate to its financial backers, supporters, fellow jihadis, the Iraqi people, and the wider world that it is capable of conducting meaningful operations. This is vital for fundraising, for the morale of its forces, and to demoralize the West and the Iraqi people.