The second issue of Inspire, an English-language magazine produced by al Qaeda's Yemen branch, has just hit virtual newsstands. Like its July predecessor, Inspire's October edition offers "chilling tips" on how to kill Americans, though the AP notes a shift from encouraging "easier-to-stop spectacular attacks" to "one-man operations, using everyday objects." Here's a look at five of the most notable stories in this "how-to magazine" for jihadis:
1. How to create "the Ultimate Mowing Machine"
In a section on "Tips for our brothers in the U.S.," Inspire offers a guide to creating "the ultimate mowing machine" — "not to mow grass but mow down the enemies of Allah." Would-be jihadis are instructed to modify a four-wheel-drive pickup truck ("the stronger the better") by mounting steel blades on the grill, then driving on a crowded sidewalk. "To achieve maximum carnage, you need to pick up as much speed as you can while still retaining good control." The magazine notes: "This method has not been used before."
2. Feature: "I Am Proud to be a Traitor to America"
The man who apparently produces the magazine, 24-year-old U.S. citizen Samir Khan, tells his story of leaving North Carolina to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in this provocatively titled essay. Khan recounts how he "happily became a traitor to America," mocks the FBI for letting him escape ("it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was al Qaeda to the core"), and says he is now "actively aware that body parts have to be torn apart, skulls have to be crushed, and blood has to be spilled" in this holy war. It's worth noting, says Georgetown University terrorism expert Paul Pillar, that Inspire is probably aimed more at Western media than would-be jihadis.
3. Tip: Shoot up D.C. restaurants at lunchtime
A writer called Yahya Ibrahim urges insurgents who want to use conventional firearms to "choose the best location" for their attacks. "A random hit at a crowded restaurant in Washington, D.C., at lunch hour might end up knocking out a few government employees," Ibrahim says. "Targeting such employees is paramount and the location would also give the operation additional media attention." How the mighty have fallen, says Spencer Ackerman in Wired. "Nine years ago, al Qaeda crashed a plane into the Pentagon and came dangerously close to taking out the White House. Now it wants to hit places like Cosí and Potbelly during the lunch rush."
4. Advice to U.S. jihadis: Stay home, stay "clean"
The "big takeaway" from the magazine, says Christopher Boucek at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is its message of encouragement to lone-wolf jihadis: "You can do it — you can participate in this." Yahya Ibrahim, in another article, explicitly encourages "our brothers to fight jihad on U.S. soil," rather than traveling "overseas to join the mujahideen." He adds: "If you are clean, stay clean... Avoid contact with any jihadi minded individuals. Do not visit jihadi websites." So al Qaeda is so "desperate to pull something off inside the United States," says Ackerman in Firedoglake, that instead of offering training, it is urging "the next generation of terrorists to act like... criminals."
5. Things aren't all rosy in Al Qaeda-land
The magazine "seems to confirm that al-Qaeda operations are being hampered by better intelligence and drone attacks on its bases in Pakistan and Yemen," says Richard Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. One article says "it is no longer possible to operate by the methods of the old model," since after 9/11 and "the onset of the American campaigns... the great majority of the existing secret organizations were destroyed." Actually, Inspire and other recent messaging shows AQAP "is still active, that they're still able to function," says Boucek. Function, yes, says Daniel Drezner in Foreign Policy. But even if it successfully foments one of its "small beer" attacks in the U.S., "al Qaeda is now following the narrative arc of VH1's 'Behind the Music' franchise." Let's just hope there's no "comeback hit."