A Twitter account linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) today posted a biography of slain AQAP operative Samir Zafar Khan, founder of the terror organization’s English-language Inspire Magazine. The biography describes him as a “Pakistani-American mujahid” known in jihadist circles as Qa’qaa’ Al-Amriki. An American citizen, Khan was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011 along with Islamist American cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who served as AQAP’s operational commander at the time.
The biography claims that Khan was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1985 and later spent his teenage years in Westbury, New York. He was 16 when al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, which Khan blamed on US policies. After the attacks, Khan allegedly refused to recite the pledge of allegiance and busied himself writing for the school newspaper, an experience that, according to the biography, aided him in his later publication of Jihad Recollections.
Jihad Recollections, a forerunner of Inspire Magazine, was founded in 2009 by Khan, who announced, “We have decided to take it upon ourselves to produce the first jihadi magazine in English.”
Khan went on to start his own blog, titled “Inshallah Shaheed,” which caught the attention of US intelligence officials, according to his biography. Indeed, media reports from the time indicate that US intelligence analysts noticed “an eerie similarity” between Khan’s blog and the newly published Inspire Magazine. Khan’s blog attracted considerable media attention, and Khan knew that he “had to stay under the guidelines of the laws regarding freedom of speech but at the same time, [he] knew the real truth wouldn’t be able to reach the masses unless and until (he) was above the law.”
Khan eventually relocated to Sanaa in October 2009, around the time that the final issue of Jihad Recollections was published online. His biography claims that Khan initially worked as a teacher, and that despite being followed by the FBI in Yemen he “managed to join the Muhjahideen brothers successfully.” He was mentored by “Sheikh Anwar” al Awlaki, whom the Obama administration had labeled as one of AQAP’s most dangerous leaders, and through him made many connections in Yemen’s jihadist circles.
The biography claims that Khan founded Inspire Magazine “as an extention of Jihad Recollections, a magazine he described as ‘America’s Worst Nightmare.'” Khan would go on to edit eight issues of Inspire, contributing articles of his own, including one notoriously titled “How To Build A Bomb In the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
A jihadist production, Inspire Magazine praises al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri and carries sermons by jihadist figures such as Anwar al Awlaki. The magazine regularly incites lone-wolf attacks in the West and outlines various techniques to use in attacking Americans.
In its 12th issue, released in March 2014, the magazine devoted a lengthy section to what AQAP calls “Open Source Jihad,” educating lone-wolf jihadists who do not have the ability to receive more formal training. The biography makes specific mention of an article penned by Khan in Inspire’s second issue in which he wrote, “I am proud to be a traitor to America.”
At this juncture, the tone of Khan’s biography shifts, highlighting a lesson to readers. “Samir was just like you,” the biography reads, “[h]e yearned for Hijrah.” Hijrah is an Arabic word meaning “migration,” and alludes to the journey the Prophet Mohammed and his followers made from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE in order to establish the first Islamic community. After his journey to Yemen, Khan “got to witness one of the important stages of Jihad but he came to realize the best way for an American Muslim.”
Khan’s biography concludes with his death along with Anwar al Awlaki as a result of US drone strike in Yemen’s northern Jawf province. “The Mujahideen will remember him as the martyr of pen and designing,” his biography reads, “[t]he traitor to America who died to support Islam.” According to AQAP, Khan’s legacy to the Muslim community is the revival of “the concept of lone Jihad.” The biography ends with the following sentence: “Samir Khan, a journalist who became an activist, an activist who became a Mujahid and a Mujahid who became a martyr.”
Khan’s death, like Awlaki’s, was perceived to be a significant blow to AQAP at the time. Former US National Security Adviser Fran Townsend commented: “Khan is unique in the sense that like al-Awlaki, he spoke English and had an appeal to the Western mind. He knew how to write and had the technical ability to use the Web.”
The death of Khan posed a real problem for AQAP’s efforts at Western recruitment. In the 10-year 9/11 anniversary supplement of Inspire, Khan had quoted AQAP leader and al Qaeda general commander Nasir al Wuhayshi, saying, “The media work is half of the jihad.”