CAIRO — Al Qaeda and its ideological allies are using English-language Web sites and forums to encourage non-Arabic speakers to make war on the West as terrorists seek the next Fort Hood shooters and “Jihad Janes.”
Their goal to widen the pool of prospective terrorists beyond traditional Middle Eastern and Asian sources is part of a search for “white Al Qaeda” activists who could foil racial profiling and initiate attacks, according to Evan Kohlmann, a consultant with FlashPoint Partners, a security research company based in New York. The effort is consistent with the gradual decentralization of Islamic-inspired holy war, he said in a telephone interview.
“It’s a way Al Qaeda can say, ‘You don’t have to speak Arabic or Pashtun or come to Pakistan for training; you just have to be committed, and go out and kill people,”’ Mr. Kohlmann said.
Appeals for nonmembers to carry out small-scale attacks are a departure for Al Qaeda, the global terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden. It maintained centralized command and training for many years, masterminding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After that, it pledged to trump the mass killing with even more spectacular assaults.
As the United States kept up pressure on Qaeda hide-outs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Qaeda leaders exercised less control over related organizations and have begun to encourage attacks by unaffiliated individuals, Mr. Kohlmann said.
Al Qaeda released a video message in English last month by Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesman, appealing for hits on targets big and small.
“We must look to further undermine the West’s already-struggling economies with carefully timed and targeted attacks on symbols of capitalism, which will again shake consumer confidence and stifle spending,” he said.
Regulators in India halted trading of bonds, stocks and currencies on Nov. 27, 2008, during terrorist attacks that killed 164 people in the financial hub of Mumbai. A July 7, 2005, attack by four Muslim suicide bombers on the London transport system, which killed 52 people, caused an almost immediate decline of more than 200 points in Britain’s FTSE 100 Index. Spain’s benchmark IBEX 35 index fell as much as 3.9 percent on March 11 and 12, 2004, after terrorist bombings on commuter trains in Madrid killed 191 people.
Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major charged by the military authorities with killing 13 fellow soldiers on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, Texas, drew ideological nourishment from English-language blogs and e-mail messages with the Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, according to Mr. Kohlmann and a Nov. 10 article by The Associated Press.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian accused by the federal authorities of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25 with explosives hidden in his underwear, chatted on various English jihad forums, Mr. Kohlmann said.
Colleen LaRose, the Pennsylvania woman who used the alias “Jihad Jane,” recruited men and women on the Internet and solicited funds for terrorists, prosecutors said in court filings. She pleaded not guilty March 18 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to charges she plotted to recruit jihadist fighters and conspired to murder a Swedish resident.
“Jihadis are desperate to find people like that as low-level recruits,” Jarret Brachman, author of “Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice” and a research fellow at North Dakota State University in Fargo, said in an interview. “There’s always a clamor at jihad Web sites for people who can speak and translate English.”
Mr. Kohlmann identified the rise of Ansar al-Mujahideen, a non-Qaeda site, as exemplifying “a prolific, multi-language enterprise with an enviable following of skilled and highly motivated English-speaking members,” in a February report for the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
The site’s English forum offers items like an article with “Advice to the Brethren Leaving for Jihad” and a video of an attack on a transport truck for police vehicles in Iraq.
It links to a broadcast by Mr. Awlaki calling on American Muslims to take up jihad and an interview with Hammam Khalil al-Balawi, a Jordanian who was a double agent for the C.I.A. until December 2009, when he blew himself up in Afghanistan, killing seven C.I.A. operatives.
Enticing “lone-wolf” terrorists is a symptom of the “continued weakening of the core Al Qaeda group,” and the “trend toward decentralization,” Stratfor, a political-risk consulting company in Austin, Texas, said in a March report.
Atomization of holy war comes at a price, Stratfor added: The would-be killers may be less skillful than trained ones, and less committed.
“Not putting their recruits through a more formal training regimen also makes it more difficult for groups to thoroughly indoctrinate recruits with jihadist ideology,” the report said.
It isn’t clear that expanding English-language Internet efforts will lead to a major increase in attacks, Mr. Brachman said, adding, “I don’t think yet you can be sure of a causal relationship between non-Arabic Web sites and active jihad.”
Even so, there’s a danger that the authorities will view online militants as armchair “jihobbyists” and won’t take their threats seriously, Mr. Kohlmann said. “It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to kill someone.”