Anwar al-Awlaki (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula video)

Inspiration from al-Qaeda’s Top Recruiter Is Currently Available at U.S. Bookstores

Several years ago, the Middle East Media Research Institute’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor project wrote about their challenges in convincing YouTube to remove al-Qaeda materials from their site. Specifically, Google officials found “not problematic” a video based on Anwar al-Awlaki’s 2009 book Allah Is Preparing Us for Victory, despite the overt al-Qaeda imagery and message from the terror group’s top recruiter, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike a year before the MEMRI meetings.

Today, with homegrown terror suspects consistently digesting the directives of the New Mexico-born cleric, video versions of “Allah Is Preparing Us for Victory” have been yanked from YouTube for violating terms of service.

But would-be jihadists need only pick up a copy from their local bookseller.

The paperback — with the original imagery of a jihadist waving the black standard on the cover — is currently available for $8.99 on Barnes & Noble’s website, with expedited shipping available and a discount coupon.

“The full text of the book ‘Allah is Preparing Us for Victory’ as spoken an [sic] written by Anwar al-Awlaki. This is the book that encouraged many around the world to join and support Al-Qaeda in the Arab [sic] Peninsula,” reads the B&N product description. “See it here as laid out, with a warning from Saeed al-Bashir on why this form of Jihad may be truely [sic] against Islam.”

An online search for the person who put said “warning” alongside the full text, including a search for any other bylined written works or Islamic study, revealed no matches. (Several of al-Awlaki’s lectures were originally released by Al Basheer Productions, which could explain the name listed for the “notes” editor.) The book was self-published in February 2015 through the Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, which was acquired by Amazon in 2005.

(Barnes & Noble screenshot)

An online search for additional copies of the book surfaced its availability through IndieBound, which refers customers to local independent bookstores. Four of the booksellers in the first list of search results indicated on their web inventory that the book was not in store but could be ordered and shipped in 1-5 days. An employee at the third store on the list — Ink by Hudson, which is within Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport — told HSToday that the book was not on their shelves.

(IndieBound.org screenshot)

“The upcoming battle will be either lose it all or win it all and that is part of al-Malhama. It will be the final battle between Kufr [disbelievers] and Iman; it will be a battle that will give victory to this Muslim Ummah… you really don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines,” al-Awlaki says in part in the book. “…You are either with us or against us; you have to make a choice — you can’t be standing on both sides of the fence; now you have to make a choice.”

Al-Qaeda has a pattern of using modern platforms — including retail — to disseminate propaganda. In January 2018, I also discovered key AQAP propaganda texts listed for free download on the Barnes & Noble website; the dates on reader reviews indicated that they had existed there, seemingly undetected, for years. There were two posting for “Al-Malahem Media Foundation presents A Special Gift to the Islamic Nation The first Magazine issued by al-Qaida in the English language.” That referred to the 2010 debut of AQAP’s English-language Inspire magazine, which included the infamous “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” article from “The AQ Chef.” The FBI said Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had that and two other Inspire issues downloaded on his laptop.

Al-Qaeda also offered as an ebook on Barnes & Noble “An English Translation of Al-Malahem Media’s Audio Release And If You Must … by the Mujahid Sheikh Ibrahim al-Rubaish May Allah Protect Him.” Al-Rubaish, said to have been killed in a 2015 drone strike, was a Saudi senior leader of AQAP and frequent Inspire contributor. After the content was reported, Barnes & Noble removed the listings.

(Barnes & Noble screenshot)

The dissemination of al-Awlaki’s content, whether or not it includes a foreword, is particularly troublesome because of how, several years after his death, he stands as perhaps the top Western recruiter for homegrown jihadists regardless of whether they claim their attack was on behalf of ISIS or al-Qaeda.

Quazi Nafis, who pleaded guilty in 2013 to a plot to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank, carried digital recordings of al-Awlaki. Terry Loewen, who pleaded guilty to a 2013 plot to bomb the Wichita airport, called al-Awlaki a “great inspiration.” Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the Ohio State University student who rammed pedestrians on campus in 2016, was said to have been inspired both by the teachings of al-Awlaki and ISIS propaganda. Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami, whose 2016 spree included New Jersey and New York attacks, reportedly was so into al-Awlaki videos that his dad tipped off the FBI. Hasher Jallal Taheb of Georgia, who was charged this year in an alleged plot to attack the White House, shared an al-Awlaki video with an undercover agent, according to the FBI. Damon Joseph, arrested in December and accused of plotting an attack in Toledo, posted content and quotes from al-Awlaki on Facebook.

Nidal Hasan, Little Rock recruiting center shooter Carlos Bledsoe, Charlie Hebdo shooter Cherif Kouachi, the Tsarnaev brothers, would-be “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab — the connections between al-Awlaki, both in life and as an inspiration after his 2011 death, and other notorious terrorists are lengthy.

And whereas his plentiful lectures and writings can be easily surfaced in file-sharing portals online — not just the dark recesses of the interwebs — they also pop up in places where one might order the latest best-seller or download a new game.

A year ago, I discovered a Google Play app titled “Anwar Al Awlaki Lectures” that had been available since at least January 2017, based on the dated reviews; it was filed under “entertainment,” had a user rating of 4.8 stars and was rated “E” for “everyone.” At that time — it appears to have been removed since it was reported — the app had more than a thousand downloads and featured video addresses as well as audio lectures. The video playlist included the 2010 interview al-Awlaki gave to AQAP’s Al-Malahem Media, in which he praised the Fort Hood shooting and called for more attacks on America.

(Google Play screenshot)

One reviewer posted that he or she had “been waiting ever since Google too [sic] down the anwar al awlaki app, I loved it so much. Alhamdulilah you have this app!!!!”

And still posted on Amazon — yet currently unavailable for purchase — is the “Travel Companion Edition” of 21 CDs containing al-Awlaki’s “Lives of the Prophets” series. Amazon is not among the sellers offering the book Allah Is Preparing Us for Victory.

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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