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On jihadi websites, disbelief and vows of revenge over bin Laden's death

Supporters of Osama bin Laden began posting on jihadi websites – Al Qaeda's main public relations arm on the Internet – within minutes of the announcement bin Laden had been killed.

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“Others want to hold off until they've heard from their own sources rather than infidel news services. Some are happy to see bin Laden is now a martyr – others are making threatening statements and saying the tornadoes were advance retribution.”

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Over the past five years or so the forum websites have grown in value and significance to Al Qaeda as the terrorist organization’s primary public relations or propaganda tool, analysts say. While such forums apparently are not used by Al Qaeda for recruiting foot soldiers directly, they are important for enlisting support more broadly around the world, getting messages out, and maintaining the morale of existing supporters, analysts say.

Such websites post links to videos of beheadings and killings of US troops along with statements praising Al Qaeda and bin Laden and intended to spread the ideology. Key forums include: Islamic Awakening English Forum, Ansar Arabic Forum, al-Jahad al-'Alami Arabic Forum, JHUF English/Urdu Forum, and Ansar al-Haqq French Forum, Mr. Zelin says.

Although Al Qaeda has so far stayed with website forums as its reliable propaganda tool, supporters have expanded to other social media tools.

“You have jihad supporters individually using Facebook and now Twitter to spread propaganda, but we're not seeing many jihadi organizations using either one,” William McCants, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, a Washington-area think tank. “But most of his supporters are still engaging in one of those mainstream [web] forums.... There are a few exceptions, but Al Qaeda leaders figure they've already got a good distribution mechanism. Why fix it if it ain't broken.”

Official wings of Al Qaeda had not spoken at press time and were expected to wait days or even weeks before commenting on such a delicate matter. But a quick read of sentiment among the peanut gallery of the group's worldwide supporters revealed confused, sad and often angry comments, among them this one, translated by Zelin: “Cheer all you want [infidels], you only have a limited amount of time ... in which to do it.”

Strategic setback

While bluster and bravado appeared to dominate, Dr. McCants says the long-term impact on Al Qaeda is likely to be seriously negative. Because the organization is so diffuse globally, its supporters have to date relied heavily on bin Laden's charisma.

“There's nobody that has his cachet, that embodies the jihadi ethos,” McCants says. “I don't see how it could not have a disheartening effect.”

But at least one on-line jihadi commenter on one forum took a different view:

“Why can’t people admit he was killed?” he wrote. “He [bin Laden] is a human being, not a prophet. Another man will replace his shoes, it’s easy.”

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