Daniel Kimmage has produced an interesting paper, entitled The Al-Qaeda Media Nexus: The Virtual Network Behind the Global Message, on behalf of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). The 22-page paper examines the ‘guerrilla media network’ that has evolved around Al-Qaeda and the various localised Salafi Jihadist groups with which Al-Qaeda is affiliated.
This brief study surveys a representative sample of Arabic language jihadist media from July 2007 and attempts to answer two simple, yet crucial, questions: What does the structure of jihadist media tell us about the relationship between Al-Qaeda central and the movements that affiliate themselves with it? And what can the priorities of jihadist media tell us about the operational priorities of Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements?
The paper pays especial attention to the role played by ‘Media Production and Distribution Entities’ – organisations that serve as the virtual interface between the jihadist groups and their target audiences – particularly the three MPDEs that produce or distribute media products on behalf of more than one jihadist group – i.e. the Global Islamic Media Front [GIMF], Al-Fajr Media Centre [Fajr], and Al-Sahab Institute for Media Production [Sahab].
Banner of the Global Islamic Media Front [GIMF]
In addition to examining the way in which these MPDEs operate – including the scrupulous care they take over branding, and their attempt to control unregulated ‘media exuberance’ on behalf of their followers – the paper has some useful things to say about the role they play in creating a coherent virtual movement out of a distributed emergent network.
the Al-Qaeda media nexus accurately reflects the loose structure of the would-be movement itself. The nexus links a variety of entities, some real and some virtual, through a decentralized web of connections that were likely spontaneous ties of both convenience and contrivance at their origination but have since hardened into ties of convention….
Despite this decentralization, the network’s activists attempt to pursue common goals through the coordinated use of online media. MPDEs maximize synergies that would otherwise be lost if armed groups simply posted statements on their own. An MPDE such as Fajr, which distributes statements by a number of groups operating in different theaters, creates an implied link and suggests a larger movement. At the same time, the links created by MPDEs, which post media products to recognized jihadist forums through “accredited” correspondents, establish the authenticity of the media products and make it difficult to introduce spurious offerings that might confuse the information battlespace. [p17]
As a result of his analysis, Kimmage comes to the following conclusions:
- The ”original” Al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden accounts for a mere fraction of jihadist media production.
- Virtual media production and distribution entities (MPDEs) link varied groups under the general ideological rubric of the global jihadist movement. The same media entities that “brand” jihadist media also create virtual links between the various armed groups that fall into the general category of Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements.
- Three key entities connect Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements to the outside world through the internet. These three media entities — Fajr, the Global Islamic Media Front, and Sahab — receive materials from more than one armed group and post those materials to the internet.
- Information operations intended to disrupt or undermine the effectiveness of jihadist media can and should target the media entities that brand these media and act as the virtual connective tissue of the global movement.
- While video is an important component of jihadist media, text products comprise the bulk of the daily media flow. Within text products, periodicals focused on specific “fronts” of the jihad are an important genre that deserves more attention from researchers.
- The vast majority of jihadist media products focus on conflict zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
- The priorities of the global jihadist movement, as represented by its media arm, are operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and North Africa.
- Jihadist media are attempting to mimic a “traditional” structure in order to boost credibility and facilitate message control. While conventional wisdom holds that jihadist media have been quick to exploit technological innovations to advance their cause, they are moving toward a more structured approach based on consistent branding and quasi-official media entities. Their reasons for doing so appear to be a desire to boost the credibility of their products and ensure message control.
- In line with this strategy, the daily flow of jihadist media that appears on the internet is consistently and systematically branded.