Voices of jubilation were heard all across the American media this week following the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. But one voice not likely to be heard in the mainstream media was that of Al Qaeda supporters, who reacted to the news in online forums. Aaron Zelin runs the website Jihadology.net and says the comments on such sites ranged from anger to celebration of bin Laden’s martyrdom.
BOB GARFIELD: On Friday, a website identified with Al-Qaeda confirmed Osama bin Laden’s death. But the initial reaction to his death on Jihadist websites was mostly disbelief. Aaron Zelin is a researcher in the Department of Politics at Brandeis University, and he tracks militant Islamic forums on his site, Jihadology.net. He says that Jihadis online were skeptical of bin Laden’s death all week, for a couple of reasons.
AARON ZELIN: Part of it has to do with the fact that following the announcement, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, as well as the Afghan Taliban, released statements saying that they believed bin Laden was still alive. Another issue is that when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was the former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed, they plastered the media with his photo.
BOB GARFIELD: I know the U.S. intelligence community is paying very close attention to the very same sites that you monitor, looking for intelligence or even code language to trigger new attacks. To what degree have new attacks been promised on the sites that you’re looking at?
AARON ZELIN: They're on the sites, that’s for sure. These guys, even before bin Laden’s death, are making threats almost daily. But I think most of the individuals that are talking about attacking the West, it’s mostly suggesting others to try and go out there and do it. There’s no evidence that they're talking about specific individuals or cells that are set up there, though there was one individual in the Shumukh al-Islam forum, Abu Suleiman, who stated that if we can confirm the death of bin Laden, then we will have cells ready to attack. But it’s hard to tell what’s a legitimate threat, since the language is very similar every single day.
BOB GARFIELD: Was there anything on any of the sites that you frequent to suggest Al-Qaeda and its 20 years of the most violent sort of mischief has maybe come to naught?
AARON ZELIN: I've not seen any evidence of that. Those who already believe that bin Laden is dead cite how when the leader of the Arabs in Afghanistan in the '80s against the Soviets died, the Jihad continued. And then they gave the example of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He died, and the Jihad continued. So they still believe wholeheartedly that Al-Qaeda will keep on going and that the Jihad will continue, and that in the end they will be victorious.
BOB GARFIELD: Can you give me some specifics of the rhetoric that you've seen?
AARON ZELIN: Yeah, sure, I could give you some quotes. “Please let them celebrate. They are celebrating their own end. Osama is in the heart of every Muslim, even those who don't admit it publicly.” There are some disturbing ones, such as, “I'll cut the head of everyone who says Sheikh Osama is dead.” And then there’s this one - this is interesting: “Coming, oh, America, coming, oh, Jews, coming, oh, rejectionists” – which they're referring to Shi'ites – “coming, oh, Kufar, secularists and apostates. Arrivals are coming and they are bringing the coffins with merciless devices.”
BOB GARFIELD: Wow. Come all ye faithful.
AARON ZELIN: Definitely. They believe in this stuff. Even if it sounds a little crazy to us, it’s not crazy to them. It’s completely rational because they have a completely different worldview.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. [SIGHS] Aaron, thank you very, very much.
AARON ZELIN: No problem. Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Aaron Zelin runs the website Jihadology.net.