MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Al-Qaida has a new online magazine. It's called Inspire, produced by al-Qaida's arm in Yemen. And ever since it appeared on the web several weeks ago, it's been the subject of intense scrutiny by the U.S. intelligence community. As NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, the magazine doesn't seem to be gathering much traction with the very audience it's supposed to attract.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Law enforcement officials say they can't remember when a media offering from al-Qaida has ever been the subject of so much discussion.
What makes this magazine different is how American it seems. It's written in colloquial English. It has jazzy headlines and articles that make it seem almost mainstream if it wasn't about terrorism. Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom, reads one headline. Unsure what to pack when you leave for jihad? The magazine has a list for you.
But Inspire doesn't offer much that is new to anyone who tracks jihadi publications.
Mr. THOMAS HEGGHAMMER (Senior Fellow, Norwegian Defense Research Establishment): Frankly ,I don't understand all the fuss about this particular one.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Thomas Hegghammer is a senior fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, a Norwegian think tank.
Mr. HEGGHAMMER: There is really nothing new about an English-language magazine like this. We have seen them since the early '90s.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Just who's behind the magazine has been the subject of enormous speculation. Initially, U.S. intelligence thought it was the brainchild of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. He was born in the U.S. and has been connected to both the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.
Now, intelligence sources tell NPR they think the magazine is the handiwork of another American a young man named Samir Khan.
He was born in Saudi Arabia but grew up in Queens, New York, and for years he was best known in jihadi circles for running a pro al-Qaida blog out of his house in Charlotte, North Carolina.
He surfaced in Yemen last year where he was studying Arabic, then he disappeared. Officials think he joined al-Qaida's arm there and has produced and edited Inspire magazine for them. That would explain the colloquial English.
Apparently, though, not many people online are reading it.
Dr. AKIL AWAN (International Terrorism, University of London): I'm Dr. Akil Awan, I'm an associate professor in international terrorism at the Royal Holloway University of London.
TEMPLE-RASTON: As part of his terrorism research, Dr. Awan trolls jihadi websites, and he says for all the drama surrounding Inspire, he hasn't seen the magazine resonating with young, want-to-be jihadists.
Mr. AWAN: It hasn't made that much of impact online, for example, within more mainstream jihadist sites.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So, an online magazine that has obsessed the U.S. intelligence community, a publication that was deemed so important it was shown to the president as part of a national security briefing, is apparently falling flat with the people it is meant to inspire - at least by one measure of popularity.
Akil Awan of the University of London says that in many ways al-Qaida's online media strategy has become a victim of its own success. According to him, with so many chat rooms and publications out there...
Mr. AWAN: What actually happens, is the message itself becomes much weaker and much more diffuse.
TEMPLE-RASTON: He believes Inspire got lost in all the noise.
But U.S. law enforcement has been worried about the Internet and its ability to radicalize young Americans for some time. And what's still not clear is whether a glossy online magazine might break through.
Again, Thomas Hegghammer.
Mr. HEGGHAMMER: When asked how he can determine that, his answer is simple: If you're a new recruit today and you go on the forums, it's bewildering, I think. There's so much out there and deciding who to listen to and which sites to go, can be difficult, I think.
TEMPLE-RASTON: When al-Qaida and Yemen first produced Inspire magazine, the file was corrupted. Most readers could only read the table of contents and one or two articles. There were rumors that the magazine contained a virus. It took al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula almost two weeks to get another full copy of the magazine up on the Web.
Participants in jihadi chat rooms still don't seem very interested, but that doesn't necessarily mean the magazine won't eventually find an audience.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.