Coalition and Iraqi special operations forces continue to target al Qaeda’s propaganda capabilities. Over the summer, US forces scored a major victory with the capture of Khalid Abdul Fatah Da’ud Mahmud al Mashadani, also known as Abu Shahed. Mashadani was al Qaeda’s minister of information and served as the go between for al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al Masri and Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. The capture of Mashadani has shed light on al Qaeda’s media operations, and has allowed Multinational Forces Iraq to roll up al Qaeda’s media cells throughout Iraq.
“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 in a press briefing. Most recently, four members of al Qaeda’s al Furqan media cell in Mosul were captured, “including the media emir of Mosul, the former head of Mosul’s media cell who had established the al Qaeda communications hub in Baghdad, a foreign terrorist from Saudi Arabia who is proficient in video editing and special effects, and a computer graphics specialist,” the Armed Forces Press Service reported. Cells have also been broken up in Baghdad, Diyala, Tarmiyah, Samarra, and Karma.
The Mosul cell members echoed recent statements made by Osama bin Laden on the dire situation in Iraq. “(They) have indicated that al Qaeda propaganda efforts have been degraded in recent months,” Smith said. “There is almost nothing left of (al Qaeda in Iraq).”
The video editor and graphics technician are the lowest ranking and most easily replaceable members of the media cells, according to Nick Grace, the host of Global Crisis Watch and an expert on al Qaeda’s media operations, in an interview with The Long War Journal. “The cell members are entry-level positions in al Qaeda’s media wing, and start off in the field with al Furqan or al Fajr,” said Grace. “If they show skills they may then graduate to work for As Sahab, al Qaeda’s parent media organization, and work in Pakistan.” Grace also noted the effort al Qaeda put into its propaganda programs and likened the city cells to local television news stations subordinate to US television networks.
The al Furqan Institute for Media Production, along with the al Fajr Media Center, is one of two al Qaeda media organizations that operate inside Iraq. A recent Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe study on insurgent media described al Furqan as “the primary media production center for ISI [Islamic State of Iraq]/Al Qaeda. It produces virtually all ISI/al Qaeda films, audio and videotaped addresses, and the ISI/al Qaeda-affiliated periodical Biographies Of Notable Martyrs. An al Qaeda-affiliated center, al Furqan distributes its products to websites through the al Fajr Media Center.”
Kavkaz Center, a website run by Chechen al Qaeda, noted the Islamic State of Iraq formed al Furqan in November 2006, when al Qaeda was at its zenith in Iraq. “This Institute is a milestone on the path of Jihad; a distinguished media that takes the great care in the management of the conflict with the Crusaders and their tails and to expose the lies in the Crusaders’ media,” the ISI press release noted.
The scope of al Furqan’s operations was highlighted during a raid on one of its offices in Samarra in June 2007. The cell “produced CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products and contained documents clearly identifying al Qaeda in Iraq’s intent to use media as a weapon,” said Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, a spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq during a briefing in July. “The building contained 65 hard drives, 18 thumb drives, over 500 CDs and 12 stand-alone computers. … In all, this media center had the capacity of reproducing 156 CDs in an eight-hour period and had a fully functioning film studio.”
US forces also found “a sampling of other propaganda documents: a letter that gives instructions on how to use the media to get out the al Qaeda message most effectively; an al Qaeda activity report highlighting car bomb, suicide, missile, mortar, sniping and IED attacks; a propaganda poster that encourages filming and distributing videos, showing al Qaeda attacks on coalition forces; and a pamphlet and a CD cover of their sniper school.”