Early Wednesday morning, jihadi forums across the world lit up with the release of the fifth issue of Inspire, the English-language online magazine put out by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Breaking the group's silence on recent Arab revolutions, the latest from AQAP’s propaganda wing, Malahim Media, is squarely focused on the uprisings sweeping the region.
Amid translations of recent Al Qaeda statements and regular features like “Why Did I Choose Al-Qaeda?,” the focus of this latest issue is a new article penned by radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
In “The Tsunami of Change,” the feature that lends its title to the cover, Mr. Awlaki offers a sweeping refutation of international perception that revolutions in the Arab world, fueled by young secular, democratic movements, will be a setback for extremist groups.
“The outcome doesn't have to be an Islamic government for us to consider what is occurring to be a step in the right direction,” Mr. Awlaki writes. “Whatever the outcome is, our mujahideen [holy warrior] brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the rest of the Muslim world will get a chance to breathe again after three decades of suffocation.”
Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, along with former leaders Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak of Tunisia and Egypt, respectively, worked for decades to crush Islamist groups, which they saw as a threat.
“Peter Bergen believes that Al Qaeda is viewing the events with glee and despair. Glee yes, but not despair," Awlaki writes. "The mujahideen around the world are going through a moment of elation and I wonder whether the West is aware of the upsurge of mujahideen activity.”
According to Awlaki, the revolution that could produce the most benefits for extremists is happening in Yemen.
The limited reach of Yemen’s central government has already made the country fertile ground for AQAP growth. Any further unraveling could give the group freer rein. On this point, Awlaki seems to have found echoes in both Sanaa and Washington.
US concerns over AQAP in Yemen
Over the weekend, in a whirlwind tour of the Sunday political shows, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in no uncertain terms that their primary concern with Yemen’s uprising is the vacuum it may create for groups like AQAP to gain power.
“We have had a lot of counterterrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni Security Services," said Mr. Gates. "So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we'll face some additional challenges out of Yemen. There's no question about it. It's a real problem.”
The US has reason to be concerned about potential AQAP gains. The group has twice targeted American soil in as many years. But until now, AQAP has been largely quiet since protests began in Yemen.
On Sunday, government buildings and an ammunitions factory, abandoned by security forces, fell to looters and opposition factions. On Monday, the ammo factory blew up, killing more than 120. The government blamed Al Qaeda.
But here in Sanaa, the cynical public isn’t buying the sudden hype about AQAP’s big return.
In the past week, as President Saleh’s options have continued to dwindle, refocusing on Awlaki and company seems a bit opportune, especially when the US is overseeing flagging negotiations between Saleh and the opposition. But for Yemen's president, ever the savvy politician, the shift in focus might just provide enough leverage to buy some more time.