In February 2022, a new English-language magazine titled Mujahideen in the West (MITW) appeared on Al-Qaeda (AQ)-affiliated media platforms. The magazine is starkly reminiscent of AQ’s infamous Inspire magazine which was previously produced by the group’s Yemeni affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) between 2010-2017 and the more recent Wolves of Manhattan (WoM) produced by pro-AQ media affiliate, Jaysh Al-Malahim. Both were infamously known for their attack manuals and easy-to-make recipes for explosives that proved crucial in several AQ-linked terrorist attacks. MITW’s main goal appears to be inciting youth in the West to carry out lone-wolf attacks in their home countries.
A Brief Overview: A Focus on Targeting Youth in the West
MITW is believed to be produced by a new pro-AQ group called Hurras Al-Tawheed (HAT). It is unclear where this group is based or whether it may be affiliated with Syria-based AQ affiliate Hurras al-Din. The official media branch of HAT is known as Al-Bidayah and its spokesperson is believed to be an individual known as Abu Yahya. Although HAT dismisses claims that MITW is an AQ magazine, the fact that it is appearing on pro-AQ media channels proves a link between the two groups. The table below provides an overview of the seven issues that have been released so far (at the time of writing).
|Issue Number||Title||Date of Publication||Number of Pages||Key Points||Number of Instructional Guides|
|1||Break the Nation of Kufr!||February 2022||8||Nil|
|2||Victory or Martyrdom||February 2022||10||1 – Molotov Cocktail|
|3||–||March 2022||8||1 – Explosives (Potassium Chlorate)|
|4||Al Qaeda or Dawlah?||March 2022||12||4 – Smoke bomb, napalm, assassination, stabbing|
|5||Jihad, The Only Path to Glory||April 2022||16||3 – Explosives (Nitric Acid, Nitroglycerin, Simple stick explosive)|
|Special Edition (Ramadan)||–||April 2022||8||Nil|
|6||O Pearls of This Ummah!||May 2022||44||1- Homemade tear gas using peppers and alcohol|
Table 1: Brief overview of the published MITW issues
Between February and May 2022, HAT released seven issues of the magazine. The defining feature of MITW, when compared to Inspire, is that it is much shorter, less wordy, more visual and generally slicker in its production. Except for the latest May issue, which was 44 pages in length, the others were between 8-16 pages in length. In comparison, the average length of Inspire across its 15 issues was 65 pages with its longest issue being Issue 13 released in 2014 which was 112 pages long. A general look at Inspire also shows that it is made for much denser reading as compared to MITW. IS’ magazines such Dabiq and Rumiyah were also longer in length with an average of 61 and 45 pages respectively.
In its aesthetic and messaging, MITW clearly caters to a younger audience. In Issue 3, for example, the group notes its justification for having a shorter magazine as follows:
“The Da’wah (the act of spreading the message) has to adapt to the situation we are dealing with. We have understood that the youth are used to short and quick information. We have realized that this is how the information needs to be spread. Quick – Simple – True.”
The pro-AQ HAT also compares social media outlets such as TikTok and YouTube’s latest ‘YouTube Shorts’ feature which produces bite-sized videos to MITW and its attempts to provide content that is short, snappy and easily absorbed by the younger generation.
By presenting a mix of theological and ideological content and attack manuals, MITW has also adopted an output structure similar to Inspire, WoM and for example, IS’ Dabiq and Rumiyah. However, its theological and ideological essays are not as long as the ones found in the others and are often presented as short, easily-readable paragraphs and religious quotes.
The magazine has published 10 different attack manuals over its seven issues. These mostly focus on simple, homemade weapons, the components of which are readily available. However, MITW’s guides on assembling explosives appear to be much less detailed compared to some found in Inspire. Thus, their accuracy and efficiency are difficult to ascertain.
Themes of Interest: Jihad, Lone-wolf Operations and Hijrah
|Special Edition (Ramadan)||6||2||2|
Table 2: Number of mentions of the terms “Jihad”, “lone-wolf” and Hijrah
One of the main themes highlighted repeatedly in MITW is jihad. In fact, the very first issue of the magazine opens with the following two statements:
“If the enemy reaches 1 INCH into the land of Muslims. Jihad becomes FARDH AL AYN (religious obligation)!
Whoever say[s] “Jihad is no more” is a liar!”
Another notable theme of interest is lone-wolf operations. In Issue 6, the lone-wolf is referred to as “the shiny star that the ummah needs” and an entire section in the issue explains how to carry out a successful lone-wolf operation. As noted in a paragraph in Issue 3:
“O Lion of Allah, do not waste your time on small lone-wolf attacks, go to their embassies, courts, security checkpoints and strike them in their gathering of kufr (disbelievers)”
Like its predecessors, MITW attempts to induct the reader into an imagined community of Muslims globally who have been persecuted, whose children have been killed and whose women have been raped. The justification for inciting lone-wolf attacks is to seek revenge and retaliation for fellow Muslim brethren who have been persecuted.
Another prominent theme featured is hijrah (migration). Issue 3 of MITW dedicates a section to why hijrah remains an obligation in the present context. Despite that, when reading the issues as a whole, they reveal that while hijrah remains an important obligation, the main aim is to carry out operations in Darul Kufr (land of disbelievers referring to the West) if one is not able to perform hijrah.
Some Unconventional Essays
Issue 4 of MITW titled ‘Al Qaeda or Dawlah?’ calls for unity among AQ and IS supporters. In the section, HAT laments the squabble between both camps and refers to it as a “sad reality we have to face”. They also call for both groups to unite and forgive each other. AQ and IS supporters have traditionally remained foes owing to ideological differences since fissures between them emerged in the early 2010s. In most other publications, both groups have expressed deep resentment toward each other, going as far as labelling the other murtad (apostate). The fact that HAT calls for unity among both factions arguably highlights its forward-thinking vision.
Second, the topic of women is also discussed. The latest issue (Issue 6) of the magazine is dedicated to women and refers to them as the ‘pearls’ of the ummah. The issue highlights several stories of Muslim women being persecuted in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and the banning of the hijab in certain countries. It calls for women to remain steadfast to Islam and raise their sons to be sacrificed for the group’s cause in the future. In a comparison, IS had called for women to more actively participate in combat, as evidenced in some articles in Rumiyah. While HAT doesn’t call for active participation of women like IS, the group’s move to dedicate an entire section in the issue to women is an interesting point to note especially as AQ has always been rather traditionalist in its outlook of women, viewing women as subsidiary to men.
The release of yet another publication shows AQ’s continued interest in inciting lone-wolf attacks. While its main goal of targeting the West is similar to Inspire and WoM, a key defining feature of MITW appears to be its focus on youth. The emergence of HAT points to the decentralisation of Al-Qaeda; in a May 2022 publication released by AQ’s Nigeria affiliate Ansaru, it noted that AQ’s decentralisation was a result of current war conditions and its very own limited capabilities as compared to its opponents. HAT seems to be making in-roads to the wider AQ umbrella of organisations as the group had recently accepted a request by the Tehreek e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to translate their reports for them.
Previously, Inspire was known to be a crucial guide for a number of AQ-linked attacks including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. British intelligence had noted that the magazine had significantly enhanced the capabilities of individuals in numerous terrorist plots in the UK since 2010. After a four-year hiatus, Inspire resumed publication in 2021.
The release of MITW points towards HAT’s (and in a larger sense, AQ’s) attempts at remaining relevant and attractive to a younger pool of prospective adherents. Jihadi magazines alone cannot be viewed as the main drivers of radicalisation and enablers of terrorist attacks. The pathway taken by individuals from embedding themselves in a group’s ideology and finally culminating in carrying out attacks in the name of the group is complex and involves a wide range of factors, both in the online and offline space. Nevertheless, magazines like MITW cannot be taken lightly. Although the efficacy of MITW in inciting attacks is yet to be seen, the counter-terrorism agencies must remain cognisant of its threat especially in view of the impact that Inspire had and the shifting global terrorism landscape in recent years from large-scale, centrally-directed attacks to small-scale, inspired attacks by autonomous cells and individuals.
Rueben Ananthan Santhana Dass is a Research Analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore. His research interests include terrorism, counter-terrorism and religious extremism in Southeast Asia; terrorist use of technologies; and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) terrorism.