But truly in this rush to be first, I think we often miss a lot. So, for the past couple of days I have been thinking about Inspire (actually I have been doing other things as well, but still Inspire has been on my mind). As is so often the case the magazine and my reflections have spawned more questions than answers. In fact, I'm not sure I came up with any answers, but I do have a lot of questions. What follows is a synopsis of my (early) thoughts on the magazine, which I have broken down into questions focusing on three specific areas.
This issue of Inspire came out much quicker than I had anticipated. Ok, so I can be off in predicting AQAP's media releases, but it didn't follow the format established by the first two issues. So what does this mean?
To me this suggests, what I think is an obvious point, namely that the editorial leadership of Inspire wanted to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the parcel bombing plot. Ok, good as far as that goes. But still, for me the question remains: why now?
This issue came out to soon to be the regular third issue, but coming out as late as it did could point to the editors not having prior knowledge of the plot. This wouldn't really surprise me if it turns out to be the case, but it does give us some indication of how close Samir Khan and company are to the leadership of AQAP.
Also the fact that none of the top leadership of AQAP features in the magazine is interesting and probably tells us something, I'm just not sure what.
Why so juvenile?
The tone as a number of people have commented on (see Brian here) is quite striking. Now, Sada al-Malahim has published some taunting articles before, but nothing like this. At least nothing I remember, can anyone think of anything? I'm thinking of the captions below some of the pictures, such as "this ad brought to you by a cold diss." Really?
This was brought home to me today as I was watching a previous AQAP video production from earlier this year (told you I was doing other things). That video is a serious - and also scary look - at AQAP. It has all the normal propaganda about killing women and children and AQAP protecting people from Sa'dah to the South, but it lacks the juvenile gangster tone of Inspire. (Incidentally the video shows a number of AQAP attacks on Yemeni military patrols - the first time I remember seeing such footage - very reminiscent of what used to come out of Iraq.)
So, the question remains, why this tone, which is so obviously intended for a western media consumer? Is this just Samir Khan giving everyone back in the US the finger, or is this something more?
What does Inspire tell us about AQAP?
The above reflections on timing and tone, I think, beg the question as to how important this all is, and what this tells us about AQAP. Is this something where Khan (or whoever is running Inspire) came to al-Wihayshi and got his permission to put together a journal and then the rest of the leadership of AQAP gives them the editorial freedom to write and produce what they want, when they want?
This seems to be what happened with Sada al-Malahim, although al-Wihayshi (opening column) and others featured prominently in the Arabic journal. But still since the death of Sada al-Malahim's editor (a Saudi with a high school education) we haven't really had much of a product. So what does this tell us? That Sada al-Malahim and Inspire are someone's pet project?
I don't quite think this is the case, but then I haven't been able to come up with a good reason as to why there hasn't been a new issue of Sada al-Malahim recently. Was al-Qahtani really that irreplaceable?
Some may make the argument - which I believe is mistaken - that the US air strikes forced AQAP's leadership underground, which is why there haven't been more issues of Sada al-Malahim. But if that is the case, then why is Inspire still being produced?
As I said more questions than answers, but sometimes that is the way it goes when studying a group like AQAP.