Recently the eighth edition of an online magazine for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) fans in the West appeared. Called Rumiyah, it first showed up in September 2016 and has appeared about once a month ever since. Rumiyah was designed for those in the West interested in ISIL style mayhem and especially “lone wolf “attacks. The latest issues have appeared in ten languages, including English. Each issue contains seemingly practical advice on how to obtain weapons (particularly firearms and explosives) in various Western countries. Some of this advice is fatally flawed and apparently not based on experience (other than some novel or video). The techniques for carrying out attacks, whether with vehicles, knives, bombs or firearms are all based on attacks that have already occurred are often featured. In short, it’s sort of porn for those obsessed with gruesome violence in the name of God (or Allah or whatever). Police often find copies of Rumiyah on computers or smart phones owned by actual or potential ISIL terrorists in the West. It is unclear if the information contained in Rumiyah played a major role in the number and conduct of recent lone wolf attacks in the West because a lot of the attack methods have been known for years but only recently popularized by ISIL.
Rumiyah is produced by a small staff in the Syrian city of Raqqa. This is the ISIL capital and is currently under constant air attack and being surrounded by hostile ground forces. So while new issues of Rumiyah may soon cease appearing the older ones will remain available indefinitely. Raqqa was captured by ISIL in 2014 and soon the first of fifteen issues of Dabiq online magazine showed up. This was the predecessor of Rumiyah and what happened to it is instructive. The last Dabiq appeared in July 2016. That was because Dabiq was named after a town in Syria that is key to ISIL religious beliefs. ISIL lost control of the town in October 2016. Dabiq Magazine was apparently replaced by Rumiyah because no plans to revive Dabiq were ever discussed. Meanwhile American intelligence and airstrikes concentrated on finding and killing the key people working on ISIL online operations. This decapitation approach has caused problems for the ISIL online propaganda effort but they managed to continue getting out new issues of Rumiyah.
The concept of Islamic terrorists of using online magazines is relatively new. In 2010 al Qaeda thought they had developed a decisive tool for using the Internet to increase their power. This was being done with a growing number of English language online magazines. These were aimed at those interested in Islamic terrorism and understood English. The main purpose of these publications is to attract recruits, contributions and all manner of support. It seemed to work at first but eventually it didn’t, just like the Islamic terrorism they promoted.
“Inspire Magazine” was the first and by 2014 Islamic terrorists had three online English language magazines. In addition to Inspire there was Resurgence from by Somali Islamic terrorist group al Shabaab. This one was announced in March 2014 but did not appear until October. A second edition showed up five months later and nothing since then. A new al Shabaab magazine showed, Amka, showed up in 2015 that appealed to a larger audience. Only two editions of Amka have shown up so far. This irregular publication schedule was typical of these magazines.
In November 2014 Al Somood from the Afghan Taliban appeared. This one appears to be an English language version of the Urdu (a common language in Afghanistan and Pakistan) publication the Taliban have distributed since 2010. Appealing to an English speaking audience is meant to attract Moslems living in immigrant communities in the West as well as highly educated (and usually English speaking) Moslems or non-Moslem sympathizers everywhere. In 2015 Syrian al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra published the first of two editions of Al Risalah. This group reorganized in early 2016 and Al Risalah has not been seen since.
Resurgence and Al Somood appealed to a specific audience (Somali, Afghan and Pakistani expatriates in English speaking countries) to mainly obtain recruits for al Shabaab and the Taliban. All three of these publications attracted a lot of attention from the mass media and politicians but otherwise were ineffective. For example not a lot of captured Islamic terrorists note these magazines as being an influence on them. The same pattern was found when analyzing online “chatter” among active Islamic terrorists. Some Islamic terrorist groups noted this and tried to adapt.
Inspire was attractive to Western media because the magazine was founded in 2010 by al Qaeda propagandist and recruiter Anwar al Awlaqi. What made Inspire unique was not so such that is was an English language online magazine directed to supporters and practitioners of Islamic terrorism and reside in the West, or anywhere there are English speaking Moslems (like Pakistan and India). No, the real appeal was that the founder was an American citizen. Thus the first issue contained articles exhorting the faithful to try and kill the enemies of Islam anyway they can (like subsequent massacres in Paris) along with tips on how to do that as well as guidance on how to avoid being detected and killed before you carry out this sacred mission. Awlaqi presented this in colloquial English.
The popularity of Inspire in the Western media backfired because it created calls for action against the traitor. Thus Awlaqi was killed in Yemen by an American UAV in late 2011. But Inspire continued and by early 2016 the 16th edition appeared. Publication of Inspire was erratic because of the untimely deaths of several people responsible for producing Inspire. That has been a problem for a long time and the magazine has been appearing infrequently, as in one or two issues a year. Awlaqi was noted mainly for being American born and an active recruiter of terrorists world-wide, especially in the West. Awlaqi was not in the senior leadership that actually ran the al Qaeda in Arabia (AQAP) organization that supported Inspire. Awlaqi was mainly famous for founding Inspire as part of his efforts to recruit more terrorists from among Moslems who were already in the West. Awlaqi used the Internet heavily to recruit Moslems outside the Middle East, and especially in the West, to participate in "personal jihad" (terror attacks planned and carried out by one person or a few people). Inspire Magazine provided practical information, for those who could read English, on how to do that. The led to more such magazines being created to do much the same thing.
While many terrorist wannabes have been found with Inspire Magazine (possession of which is illegal in Great Britain) in their possession, no successful terror attacks have been traced to it. That's probably because there are already a lot of Islamic terrorist "how to" documents out on the Internet, most of them written in Arabic or Urdu (the most common language in Pakistan). There has always been some material in English, if only because a lot has been written about terrorism in English. This has become the common language of knowledge in general, with technical material from many other languages translated into English. Until recently, few books were translated into Arabic (or even published in Arabic), so many Arabs interested in learning anything beyond religion learned English first.
What English speaking terrorist wannabes still lack is practical experience on how to go about being an Islamic terrorist. Those most attracted to this sort of thing tend to be the less successful socially and economically. Simple and direct instructions are needed, along with ideological justification for Islamic terrorism. These magazines provides both, although the propaganda tends to be rough going for those not accustomed to deep thinking. The advice on carrying out violence is easier to understand, and that's what makes online publications like this dangerous. Note that all these online Islamic terrorist magazines warn their readers to be careful in using the Internet to respond to the editors.