March 10, 2014 | Policy Brief

The Limitations of al Qaeda’s New English Webzine

March 10, 2014 | Policy Brief

The Limitations of al Qaeda’s New English Webzine

Al Qaeda announced this weekend the forthcoming publication of a new English webzine titled, Resurgence. The magazine is intended to help al Qaeda recruit would-be jihadists in the West while also challenging Washington’s narrative of the ongoing attempts to weaken the terror network.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most lethal branches of al Qaeda’s global network, has already gone down a similar path by producing an online magazine named Inspire.  This new publication will be released by As Sahab, which produces propaganda for al Qaeda’s senior leadership.

The advertisement for this new publication features an audio clip of Malcolm X speaking over images of an AK-47, a NATO meeting in Istanbul, President George W. Bush, American soldiers, and the Boston Marathon bombings. “If you and I would just realize that once we learn to talk the language that they understand, they will then get the point,” Malcolm X says in the clip, which is intended to be a call to violence.

Al Qaeda has repeatedly tried to use Malcolm X in its propaganda messages. In a November 2008 audio message, for instance, Ayman al Zawahiri employed racist stereotypes when comparing the slain activist to then President-elect Barack Obama. Zawahiri said that Obama was the “direct opposite of honorable black Americans” such as Malcolm X. The al Qaeda leader also denigrated former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in the message. Such barbs demonstrate how tone deaf al Qaeda can be when attempting to hone its message for Western ears.

This is not to suggest that al Qaeda’s messaging in the West has been completely ineffectual. Several attacks and a string of plots (many of which were in their nascent stages) can be traced back to individuals who found at least some part of al Qaeda’s messaging compelling. The Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, admired the teachings of al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al Awlaki, with whom he corresponded. And the Tsarnaev brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings were influenced by Inspire magazine.

Al Qaeda wants to attract more Americans to the cause. The goal is to prompt individual jihadists to take up arms, preferably without training or strict guidance. It remains to be seen if Resurgence can be more successful in this regard than past efforts.

Historically, al Qaeda has been far more adept at capitalizing on the violence in war torn countries such as Syria, than from internet publications. Western foreign fighters have been on the rise, with many hailing from Europe and other points West. 

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Al Qaeda