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RCMP warns of al-Qaeda pitching 'do-it-yourself' terrorism on the Internet

This Oct. 2008 file photo by Muhammad ud-Deen shows Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. The imam, who communicated with the Fort Hood shooting suspect Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, said he did not pressure Hasan to harm Americans, The Washington Post reported Monday, Nov 16, 2009.

Muhammad ud-Deen/The Associated Press/Muhammad ud-Deen/The Associated Press

Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen poses a clear threat to Canada, the RCMP says - not just by putting bombs in airplanes, but by planting ideas in the minds of Westerners.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud said al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - the terrorist group being blamed for a new plot to bomb transatlantic cargo jets - is trying to sell Westerners on the concept of do-it-yourself terrorism. The group's notion of an "open-source jihad" has gained considerable traction in Canada, among both arrested "homegrown" terrorism suspects and those now under scrutiny, he said.

"They do represent a threat - it's a very serious and emerging threat," Assistant Commissioner Michaud, the man in charge of the Mounties' national-security program, told The Globe and Mail. "We're seeing their ability to communicate a clear, coherent type of message. They have developed a very good understanding of Western culture."

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It's not just police who are wrestling with the spread of the message. The popular online site YouTube announced this week it is pulling AQAP terrorist-propaganda videos that had somehow slipped past censors. "We have removed a significant number of videos," the Google-owned company said in a statement. "… We will continue to remove all content that incites violence according to our policies. Material of a purely religious nature will remain on the site."

Part of the reason is that a key firebrand figure, the radical AQAP cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, toes the fine line between preaching and incitement. And he speaks to Westerners in a language they can understand - English.

"He's very charismatic," Assistant Commissioner Michaud said.

From his Yemeni hideout, Mr. Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, releases Internet sermons and communicates directly with aspiring Western terrorists - such as Nidal Hasan, the so-called Fort Hood Shooter, who was radicalized before he killed a dozen soldiers in Texas last year.

In Britain on Tuesday, a young Muslim woman who was a follower of Mr. Al-Awlaki was convicted of the attempted murder of a Member of Parliament who supported the Iraq invasion.

And Canadian Mubin Shaikh, a Muslim who worked as a paid infiltrator for federal security agencies, remembers one popular Al-Awlaki lecture being played at a winter training camp north of Toronto five years ago.

The message of "the Constants of Jihad" sermon? "Forget about intellectual pursuits and just join the fight," Mr. Shaikh said in an interview. His testimony about the activities at the winter camp sent several members of the so-called "Toronto 18" cell to prison - including suspects who sought to explode truck bombs in downtown Toronto.

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AQAP is evolving. The group has started publishing Inspire, a slick new English-language magazine on the Internet. The magazine tells young Muslims in the West to rise up and attack their societies.

The latest issue contains an article titled "the Ultimate Mowing Machine." Readers are urged to jerry-rig a pickup truck with steel blades "to mow down the enemies of Allah." The article suggests such trucks could be plowed into crowds "in countries like the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia" or in several European nations.

Counterterrorism authorities have been wrestling with the significance of Inspire. They wonder whether to warn the public about its contents - and thereby risk building readership - or keep mum and hope its appeal remains marginal and slowly dies away.

Meantime, AQAP is using whatever means it can to hammer home its message: Muslims are being humiliated by the West, and should strike back using any means necessary.

"They call upon the creativity of all those who support their cause," said Assistant Commissioner Michaud.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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