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American forces in Afghanistan can apply the principles of a counterinsurgency manual that was used in Iraq. Now, it turns out that al-Qaida has its own manual, a guide for how to recruit terrorists.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE: Researchers at West Point recently stumbled on the 51-page manual while they were visiting a jihadi chat room.

TEMPLE: Yeah, so it's a Web site where they - you know, you can have interactive discussions and post videos and post things like this book.

TEMPLE: That's Brian Fishman. He's the head of research at the military academy's Combating Terrorism Center. He says the site, called Ecles, is the second most popular jihadi chat room on the Web, and al-Qaida often posts things there. Because of that, it's a place counterterrorism analysts track regularly. So when the West Point analysts discovered a step-by-step primer called the "Art of Recruiting Mujahedeen," it got their attention. On one level, it might be an early indication that al-Qaida is trying to identify new sleeper terrorists. On the other hand, the book is so basic it seems to suggest that al-Qaida is getting desperate for new members.

TEMPLE: You have questions to judge not only the recruiter's progress, but also the recruits, go-no go questions, so that the recruiter himself doesn't have to use a lot of judgment. There's simply the intermediary for this technique that is being taught in the handbook.

TEMPLE: Here's how the manual, as translated by the CIA, suggests a recruiter build a rapport with a recruit.

U: This stage lasts approximately three weeks. You must do something important at this stage.

TEMPLE: The manual continues...

U: You must identify his interests and relations with people and how he spends the whole 24 hours, meaning you study him secretly to be reassured about your choice.

TEMPLE: This section touches on such things as being nice to the recruit. It suggests the recruiter pretend to be his friend, perhaps even buy small gifts. It ends with a questionnaire to assess progress. Is the recruit anxious to see you? it asks. You get one point for no and three points for yes. Does he accept your advice and respect your opinion? It all reads like one of those relationship quizzes in women's magazines.

U: If you have received less than 10 points, you are on the wrong path, repeat the stages from the beginning. From 10 to 18, you are on your way, but increase...

TEMPLE: The book is clearly tailored to recruiters who may not know very much about the Quran. The manual suggests they target non-Muslims or recent converts to the Muslim faith. West Point's Fishman says the simplicity may suggest that al-Qaida and its affiliated groups have had to lower their recruitment standards.

TEMPLE: When you think about al-Qaida's senior leadership, you actually have a lot of very sophisticated thinkers there, people with, you know, engineering degrees and doctors, those sorts of folks. That's not who is being targeted with this handbook. This is for a different sort of class of terrorist, if you will.

TEMPLE: While the manual might suggest a hint of desperation, experts say it also presents some very real concerns. Georgetown University professor and counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says the manual is aimed at attracting people who are less likely to arouse the suspicions of law enforcement. And it may be part of al-Qaida efforts to attract followers who can blend into different communities.

INSKEEP: So I think it really reflects what we see in, you know, many established terrorist groups historically is this persistent quest or search for a new and broader constituency from which they can draw, potentially draw recruits from.

TEMPLE: One of the most worrisome aspects of the manual is that it is focused on keeping recruits right where they are, in the countries in which they already live. Hoffman said that will make them harder to find.

TEMPLE: In this way, they're hoping to create, in essence, the ultimate fifth column, or a sleeper that really is unknown, undetectable, is beneath the radar and in place in precisely the enemy territory where al-Qaida wishes to strike.

TEMPLE: What is impossible to gauge at this point is just how many people have downloaded "The Art of Recruiting Mujahedeen," and whether any of them have put it into practice. Which is, of course, exactly how al-Qaida wants it.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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