It's not your typical magazine. The layout is conventional enough, the typeface bold; there is more than a smattering of high quality photographs; and the graphic designers at al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been given free rein. But then in the "table of contents" you're invited to read "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" [note the American spelling.]
This is the first edition of Inspire – supposedly the online house magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And it's certainly topical. It contains a long piece condemning western governments for moving to ban the full-face veil in public – just as the French National assembly passes such legislation.
Its language also shows the media-savvy touch of the fugitive preacher Anwar al Awlaki, now thought to be holed up in a remote part of Yemen. Inspire includes references to David Letterman (on President George W Bush), CNN reporting on the New York based RevolutionMuslim group in its documentary American al Qaeda, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on France's outlawing of the veil.
Much of the magazine is given over to the rhetorical battle, with articles purportedly from al Qaeda's top leadership. There’s an article attrributed to Osama bin Laden on the threat of global warming (largely blamed on the greed of western corporations); and another to his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri – which calls on the people of Yemen to rebel against their government. Both contributions have raised eyebrows among al Qaeda watchers, because such communications are very rare from the top echelon.
For all its imitation of coffee-table publications, there is a disturbing and potentially dangerous side to Inspire – including a detailed and illustrated lesson to aspiring bomb-makers. "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" by 'AQ Chef" is justified with this preamble:
"The Western governments today are waging a relentless war against Islam. They brought together a coalition and have the support of their population in invading and destroying Muslim land."
The implication is clear: that civilians in the West are a legitimate target because they are party to the "occupation" of Muslim countries. The article goes on to praise the "individual work inside the West such as the operations of Niđāl Ĥassan and Faisal Shahzād." (Hassan is the alleged Fort Hood shooter; Shahzad confessed to the failed Times Square bombing.)
Awlaki himself contributes an article entitled "The Cartoon Crusade" which includes a timeline of the caricatures and other publications held to be insulting to the Prophet Mohammed. It also includes what the magazine terms a "hitlist pertaining to the figures related to the blasphemous caricatures."
Awlaki directs some of his fire at a cartoonist called Molly Norris, who started a Facebook campaign in response to the furore over the depiction of Mohammed in an episode of South Park earlier this year. Called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day", it was a tongue-in-cheek initiative that she later disavowed. But Awlaki calls for Ms Norris' murder in unequivocal tones.
"This snowball rolled out from between her evil fingers. She should be taken as a prime target of assassination along with others who participated in her campaign. This campaign is not a practice of freedom of speech, but is a nationwide mass movement of Americans joining their European counterparts in going out of their way to offend Muslims worldwide."
The FBI says it is taking the threat to Ms Norris seriously. "We understand the absolute seriousness of a threat from an Al Qaeda-inspired magazine and are attempting to do everything in our power to assist the individuals on that list to effectively protect themselves and change their behavior to make themselves less of a target," David Gomez, FBI assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Seattle, told the New York Daily News.
Elsewhere there is a lesson on sending and receiving encrypted messages. "One such software is a program created by our brothers called Asrar al-Mujahideen 2.0. Here, we will discuss how to use this program, how to create your key..." it begins.
Inspire runs to 67 pages and has already drawn the attention of one US Congressman disturbed that such content should be so widely available.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who serves on the House intelligence committee, said Monday it was "an unfortunately well-done magazine" and "a virtual how-to guide for becoming a terrorist."
But at least one jihadist forum seems to believe that “Inspire” is all a plot by the enemies of jihad. The al Fallujah forum says the magazine is the work of “apostate hypocrit dogs who are trying to dicredit the Mujahideens” [sic]. Maybe the second edition will give us further clues.