AQAP's Radicalization Efforts in the West Take Another Hit
As more information has emerged related to the death of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, there are now reports that Samir Khan, the creator and editor of AQAP's Inspire magazine, was also killed in the airstrike.
Khan, a longtime publisher of jihadist material, was born in Saudi Arabia but raised in the United States. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he began to publish an English-language pro-jihadist blog and eventually established jihadist websites and an internet magazine called Jihad Recollections. It was the artistic similarities between Jihad Recollections and Inspire that helped identify Khan as the editor of Inspire. Khan left his parents' home in Charlotte, N.C., in 2009 to move to Yemen after he learned the FBI was investigating him for publishing jihadist material. When Khan reached Yemen and came into contact with AQAP, Nasir al-Wahayshi, the group's leader, considered Khan an ideal conduit to create an English-language magazine intended to reach out to Muslims in the West. Inspire was intended to radicalize and recruit young, English-speaking Muslims and equip them to conduct attacks in the West.
Khan brought a lot of energy to AQAP's publishing efforts, and his youth, colloquial American English skills, graphic design skills and knowledge of American culture gave Inspire magazine an edgy quality that was appealing to young, English-speaking Muslims. While there may have been others working with Khan to produce Inspire, he was the driving creative force behind the project, and his death likely will have a substantial impact on Inspire — if the magazine even continues to be published.
If the reports are accurate, the deaths of both al-Awlaki and Khan will greatly hamper AQAP's efforts to radicalize and equip English-speaking Muslims. Because of the importance of these two men in propaganda efforts, it was an operational security error on behalf of AQAP to have them together in the same location. The group may have other native English speakers, but finding individuals who possess the charisma and background of al-Awlaki or the graphics and editorial skills of Khan will be difficult, and their English-language outreach is certain to face a significant setback.