AQAP’s Inspire magazine contains ‘military analysis’ of Charlie Hebdo massacre

The 14th edition of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine, released on September 9, encourages “lone mujahideen” to pick up the banner of jihad by conducting assassinations. The magazine even provides a list of high-profile businessmen in the US who would make valuable targets.

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“Whoever understands the components of the American economy knows the importance these personalities play in the revival of the America[n] Economy,” Inspire’s authors claim. Should anyone on the list be assassinated or migrate from America because “they live in insecurity,” it will supposedly bring “instability to the American economy.”

As in past editions, Inspire provides instructions for making homemade explosives. One improvised hand grenade, for example, is purportedly designed to help a “lone” jihadist assault the location of his choosing.

While it is possible that one or more “lone” actors will try to follow through on AQAP’s threats, Inspire contains an important reminder that professionally trained terrorists are still plotting.

A case in point is the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris in January. Inspire underscores al Qaeda’s responsibility for the operation.

One article is a “military analysis” of the attack on Charlie Hebdo by Ibrahim Ibn Hassan al Asiri, who is widely known as AQAP’s chief bomb maker. However, Asiri’s recent appearances in AQAP’s propaganda underscore his importance within the organization, indicating that he is likely more than an expert bomb maker.

US intelligence believes Asiri is responsible for designing the bomb used by his brother in a failed attempt to kill the Saudi deputy interior minister in August 2009, as well as other sophisticated explosives. The underwear bomb worn by an AQAP-trained operative on board a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009 is thought to be another one of Asiri’s inventions.

Asiri lays out the process by which Charlie Hebdo was put in al Qaeda’s crosshairs.

“At first, [al Qaeda’s] central leadership began by selecting a particular target — in this case, caricature artists defaming the religion and the Prophet Mohammed,” Asiri writes. Al Qaeda’s leaders selected “two methods” for “achieving this goal.” The first was the “lone jihad” method, in which al Qaeda would have “no direct connection” to the terrorists except for “inspiring and guiding” them. Thus, AQAP published a hit list featuring Charlie Hebdo’s editorial director Stephane Charbonnier and others in one of its editions of Inspire. The jihadists hoped that “lone” jihadists would attack those on the list.

The second method is an “operation organized by a jihadi group,” that is, “assigning specific persons to target the cartoonists.” The Charlie Hebdo shootings fall squarely in this category, according to Asiri.

Al Qaeda “prepared and trained” Said Kouachi, one of the two brothers responsible, by “[g]iving him necessary training that will prepare him militarily and psychologically to successfully execute the operation.”

“This is how the target-selection [sic] process was completed, as a first step towards the assassination operation,” Asiri writes. “The leadership then selected the method and a suitable person to execute this important operation.” Because “the target was geographically far from the leadership command, information [on] the target was scarce.” Therefore, Kouachi “had to take the responsibility of collecting the necessary information so as to achieve his goal” and “use his own means and method of collecting information.” Upon his return to France, Kouachi “continued with his preparation for the operation.”

Asiri’s description of the plot is consistent with al Qaeda’s longstanding policy of centralizing the decision, but decentralizing the action.

Asiri breaks the planning down into steps. First, there was the “[s]election of the target” by al Qaeda’s “central leadership.” Then, the “planning and initiation of the operation” was carried out by AQAP. The “manner of assassination” was “left for the executor to decide,” based on “his potential and the circumstances surrounding the operation.” This was so he would have “flexibility and wide options in executing the task.”

Other evidence backs up Asiri’s explanation of how the Charlie Hebdo killings were planned and executed.

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has long plotted and advocated terrorism against those deemed to be blasphemers. Al Qaeda plotted to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in response to its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that were deemed offensive. Al Qaeda’s leaders openly threatened Denmark over the issue. And the group said its bombing of Denmark’s Embassy in Pakistan in 2008 “fulfilled the promise of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden…of responding” to the “insulting drawings.”

AQAP continued with this theme. As Asiri notes, the 10th issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine, which was released in early 2013, includes a “Wanted” poster that is headlined, “Dead or Alive For Crimes Against Islam.” The poster was intended to encourage followers to shoot 11 people, all of whom have supposedly offended Islam. One of them was Charbonnier.

In the very first edition of Inspire magazine in 2010, AQAP ideologue Anwar al Awlaki, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011, called for jihadists to attack cartoonists who had supposedly smeared the legacy of the Prophet Mohammed.

Shortly after the Charlie Hebdo slayings, AQAP’s Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, who has also since been killed in a US drone strike, said the Kouachis’ operation was planned in “compliance” with the “command” of Allah to support his messenger, as well as the “order of our general emir, the generous Sheikh Ayman bin Muhammad al Zawahiri,” and the “will” of Sheikh Osama bin Laden.

“We clarify to the ummah that the one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation, is the leadership of the [al Qaeda] organization,” al Ansi said. Al Ansi also explained that the “emir of the operation,” Said Kouachi, worked with Anwar al Awlaki.

The Kouachi brothers hardly hid their AQAP affiliation. French television interviewed one of the brothers as they were on the lam. The interviewee was identified as Cherif Kouachi, Said’s brother, who said that he was sent by Awlaki. Cherif Kouachi also said that Awlaki provided cash for the operation. Asiri’s article does not refer to any trips by Cherif to Yemen. But it is possible that Cherif was referring to his brother’s ties to Awlaki. According to multiple published reports, Western intelligence officials believe that at least one of the brothers traveled to Yemen where he received training and financing, just as Asiri claims. Western and Yemeni officials have previously claimed that both brothers were trained in Yemen.

Al Qaeda’s attack on Charlie Hebdo is part of a larger campaign against the supposed blasphemers. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has hacked to death several people in Bangladesh accused of offending Islam and the legacy of the Prophet Mohammed.

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In fact, the newest edition of Inspire magazine ties the Charlie Hebdo killings to the murders committed by AQIS. One graphic, seen on the right, includes all of these attacks on a “list of operations targeting those who insult the prophet and religion of Islam.”

The leader of AQIS, Asim Umar, has said that the assassinations carried out by his men “are part of a series of operations initiated by the different branches of al Qaeda on the orders of our respected leader Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri (may Allah protect him).”

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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17 Comments

  • Arjuna says:

    “Lone wolf” is a lousy way to think of terrorists like Kouachi. Shame on the IC for enabling this obfuscation and confusing the poor politicians! He was trained and indoctrinated by hard-core AQ cadre overseas and then kept warm in France while he and his brother did recon and acquired weapons and an IS-wannabe as a co-conspirator. Nothing “lone wolfy” about Said Kouachi at all except that he acted by himself some of the time. He was groomed and prepped and his target was selected for him, then he acted independently from there. Classic AQ.
    As I wrote in January, “This is the varsity… Regardless of whether AQ or IS (formerly Al Qaeda in Iraq) trained them, I’ll hazard a guess they’ve been both trained and in a combat zone. Listen to the lack of stress in their voices. ” Of course LWJ was all over this fact: the article I commented on was titled “Terrorists who attacked French magazine displayed professional training”.
    Al Isiri seems to be stepping into the dead traitor Al Awlaki’s shoes. Besides critiquing operations and sounding strategic in Inspire, Isiri appeared online in a message this summer and Al Qaeda expert Paul Cruickshank says he’s “the most dangerous terrorist operative that the United States faces today.” I really dislike him. I hope he meets his end very soon.
    Never forget.

    • DD says:

      Never forget
      Give it 70 years there about, like Pearl Harbor to now, and no one cares.
      But for now US is doing good killing people in far away lands, people (good or bad) with families that wont Never forget either, and more enemys to bomb are made, someday it need to be “forgoten” to move on.

      “dead traitor Al Awlaki’s shoes.”
      Traitor is always an interesting idea, when US gets back in line under the union jack, il be fine with “dead traitor Al Awlaki’s shoes.” 🙂

      • Arjuna says:

        Thanks for the feedback and the smiley, Double D.

        Al Qaeda sure hasn’t forgotten Pearl Harbor. They were trying to cause another one in the Arabian Sea with the 2014 Karachi Dockyard attack where, had it succeeded, two Pakistani warships would have launched ship-to-ship missiles against the (sleeping) U.S. Fleet.

        In fact another dead traitor, Adam Gadahn, specifically referred to the Karachi Dockyard attack as a “New Pearl Harbor”. Fortunately, Adam is now a grease stain somewhere in Waziristan. He was the victim of a signature strike, sadly, not a targeted kill. We also iced our own hostage, Warren Weinstein, around the same time in a similar fashion (by accident in a POL strike). Yeesh. We need better HUMINT on the ground, so we know exactly what the drones are aiming for and to confirm kills.

        When I say “never forget”, I mean don’t think that 9/11 was a “lucky punch” and go back to the Kardashians. It was a large, long-planned operation that succeeded. Other large, long-planned operations have failed (every one of about a half dozen since 9/11) and still others are in the planning stages.

  • rtloder says:

    This is pure anarchist rhetoric, when are these individuals going to stop dreaming?.

  • mike merlo says:

    so how long before Muslim Terrorist’s & Muslim Terrorist Organizations make common cause with non-Muslim anti-Establishment entities/individuals in the ‘West’ resurrecting their antecedents from the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s?

  • Evan says:

    Hey great article.

    Just proves again that Big Z and OBL were and are very much relevant, and that even though Z is supposedly so busy trying to hide he can’t stop to tie his shoes, let alone release audio message after video, and that he’s calling the shots…

    As for Asiri, the guys brother didn’t just “try to use a bomb,” he had Asiri make him one special that was surgically implanted, if I’m not mistaken…
    That’s why we go through mm wave scanners at airports…

    Anyhow, it’s all bad, in a lot of ways, it’s France’s openness and kindness, and absolutely ridiculous and insane gun laws, that precipitated this crime…
    Unchecked immigration, a safe secure place to hide and plan, no restrictions on your movements, lax security at the target location, unarmed police, and a totally unarmed and sheep like populace, ALL contributed to this horrible crime…
    And the same thing would have happened on that train had it not been for some good men.

    • Arjuna says:

      I love everything about this comment, except for the gun points.

      Guns did not stop the killer on the train, courage did. Guns did not save the U.S. Capitol and our government from the terrorists on 9/11, courage did. Guns will not protect us from germs or radiation, only common sense (and courage) will.

      America is an over-armed society with insane amounts of gun violence. More guns, whether in the hands of private citizens or the authorities, will not make people safer.

      Arjuna
      (MOS: 11B)

  • trebor says:

    Where can I find a PDF download for 14th issue of Inspire Magazine? Can only find up to issue 13,

  • Paul Kamolnick says:

    Trebor, I also am stumped. Cannot find ANYWHERE. Seems SITE or MEMRI of LWJ and other folks have it, but I cannot find the url. Someone please assist if possible. I’m in the midst of comparing IS/AQ and Dabiq/Inspire is critical.

    • Arjuna says:

      //justpaste.it/Issue14
      Think hard b4 opening if you are in touch with any friends of Mo. You will attract attention.

      • Paul Kamolnick says:

        Arjuna,
        The content has now been deleted from this link. Any other ideas. This is a VERY unwelcome development if this is the present and future of accessibility. My view is that the benefits of making this available far outweigh the costs. Making available an organization’s blueprint for mass murder will empower many more opponents that proponents, and civilian academic analysts contributing to the CT effort will be denied essential data to construct alternative strategies and models. What is also unclear is why a very few so quickly provided snippets of insight based on privileged access, but snippets that without the original document, must be classified in my own scholarly world as at present uncorroborated by my own reading of the original document. This is NOT GOOD. At the very least, an explanation should be provided that attempts to make the case so that others may weigh in?!

        • Arjuna says:

          Paul, I’m not sure I agree, even though you are a well-meaning prof just trying to understand the enemy. There is too much operational advice for the Forces of Light to allow these terrorist how-to-murder manuals to stay online. I am actually glad it’s been disappeared. You can find what you need (the non-operational sections) in other places. They are more than enough to do your comparison with Dabiq. I look forward to reading it!

          • Paul Kamolnick says:

            Arjuna,
            I had some second thoughts and am in partial agreement here. The actual details assisting terrorcraft are not my interest and I agree they can disappear. However, the table of contents reproduced at worldanalysis.net/14/2015/09/inspire-issue-assassination-operations/ indicates many topics that go beyond, including what appears to be a longish shari’a argument–“Conditions of the Word of Tawheed”. Several other pieces of writing appear to deal with a range of thought/action/legitimation beyond providing manuals to killers. Do you agree? If so, is there a way to get hold of these particular pieces of writing? The idea that Dabiq #11 and Inspire #14 came out on the same day, and represent key manifestations of different ‘jihadist’ intentions/representations, is important at a number of levels.
            If you can direct me to the legal/shari’a arguments provided, I am fine with that. Also, is it possible to corrupt all terrorcraft related writing and allow the ‘ideological’ arguments to make it out to those who seek to read/refute/counter them?
            Paul

  • Paul Kamolnick says:

    Hey folks at LWJ,
    Can you let us know the url for Inspire 14, or is this something academic analysts will not be able to investigate? Please inform asap.

  • brig says:

    I, too, have not been able to find a PDF I can download. Can anyone help with info?

  • Sharkbite says:

    I have been following LWJ, Institute for the Study of War and a few others for many years now. For my new personnel these sites are mandatory for understanding the conflict we are in. I have also found a place that is not part of the elite few sites that posts copies of Inspire. It has finally updated the two newest ones, Inspire 13 and now Inspire 14. My apologies to LWJ staff if this is breaking a bit of protocol here, but more information is better than none. the following link has all the issues on it.

    //jihadology.net/category/inspire-magazine/

  • Arjuna says:

    13 and 14 are particularly nasty. What will we analysts do when they publish their WMD recipes and formulas? Still download? I would not. You could get the non-XXX rated parts elsewhere, from SITE, for example (which I put right up there w LWJ and ISW fwiw). Some things, like bombmaking instructions and kiddie porn are just too much.
    If we killed the enemy more and talked him less, nothing would please me more.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis