March 15, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 677

American-Yemeni Al-Qaeda Cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki Highlights the Role and Importance of Media Jihad, Praises Al-Jazeera TV Journalists and WikiLeaks

March 15, 2011 | By Steven Stalinsky*
Yemen | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 677


Over the past two years, Yemeni-American jihadist cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki has emerged as a key leader of Al-Qaeda. On February 9, 2011, Michael Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a Congressional hearing that the threat of Al-Qaeda's central body, which is led by Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has been surpassed by that of Al-Awlaki. He said: "I actually consider Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), with Al-Awlaki as a leader within that organization, probably the most significant risk."

Al-Awlaki's mastery of media skills, among his other talents, helped him emerge as a leader; most notable is his manipulation of Western media outlets, as early as 2001 – among them NPR, PBS and The New York Times, which chose to interview him in their efforts to learn about moderate Islam. He was frequently quoted by these media outlets, and was called a "bridge builder between Islam and the West."[1] The Baltimore Sun even depicted him as hip and media savvy, saying, "Al-Awlaki bridges the two worlds as easily as he shifts from lecturing on the lives of the prophets to tapping phone numbers into his Palm Pilot."[2]

On November 18, 2001, while serving as an imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, VA, Al-Awlaki was chosen by the Washington Post to answer readers' questions about Ramadan. He discussed his opinion of the "one-sided" U.S. media and stated that he gets his news instead from sources including Al-Jazeera.

In the summer 2010 issue of Inspire, the English-language magazine of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Awlaki was quoted as saying, "Why does the vast majority of Western media outlets refer to jihadi media as 'propaganda,' when every media outlet in the world has an agenda to propagate for the purpose of altering mindsets in one way or another?"

Al-Awlaki's January 2009 "44 Ways to Jihad" lecture also included a section dedicated to "Fighting the Lies of the Western Media," as well as supporting jihad media. It states: "The perceptions of many Muslims are formed by the Western media... The danger of the Western media stems from the fact that it puts on the cloak of truth and objectivity when in reality it is no more than the mouthpiece of the devil. Can't you see that the Western media is constantly trying to underplay the atrocities committed by the West while exaggerating the violations – which are few and far in between – committed by Muslims?...The Western media is so good in its deception that its lies pass on a wide section of the Muslim ummah. The fact is that this media demonizes the mujahideen, spreads lies about them, blows out of proportion their mistakes, tries to sow the seeds of disunity amongst them, attempts to ruin the reputations of their leaders, and ignores or demonizes the scholars of truth when on the other hand, it glorifies and promotes the scholars of falsehood. So my dear brothers and sisters part of your duty is to campaign amongst Muslims to raise their awareness regarding this issue. You should encourage them to be careful and critical of the Western media. A Muslim should not believe Western sources unless they are confirmed by a trustworthy Muslim one. I say a "trustworthy" Muslim source because the verse was warning us from accepting the news of a disobeying Muslim... A media source that could otherwise be very objective and truthful could become a fabricator when it comes to covering news on Muslims..."[3]

Al-Awlaki's Message "To the Members of the Media"

In his latest message to the Muslim world, Al-Awlaki defends the journalists of one such "trustworthy" Muslim source, Al-Jazeera, and praises the Western media source WikiLeaks. The message, a six-minute video of his speech "A Message to the Members of the Media," was released February 14, 2011 by the jihadi forum Shumukh Al-Islam.[4] In it, Al-Awlaki also accuses the U.S. and the West of using liberty and freedom of expression as a pretext to take over the world's resources and treasures, and to oppress and deprive people of their rights. He said that whenever anyone tries to expose "the truth about the U.S. and its agents," the West discards the principle of liberty it pretends to defend and proceeds to silence and arrest the offender, as well as prosecute him on false charges.[5]

Caption: "There is no freedom of expression for those who expose the crimes of America and its agents."

Two weeks after its release, the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) released a video with English subtitles of this speech. The recording received scant attention, primarily due to events in Egypt and throughout the region. Clues to the date of its actual recording can be found in his references to WikiLeaks as well as to the August 16, 2010 arrest of Yemeni journalist 'Abd Al-Ilah Shai, by Yemeni authorities, for alleged ties to Al-Qaeda.[6]

Caption: 'Abd Al-Ilah Shai; from an Al-Jazeera report which was used in an AQAP video.

The biographies of the journalists that Al-Awlaki names and defends in his February 14, 2011 speech are listed below. They have been employed by Al-Jazeera and have been accused of having links to Al-Qaeda. In fact, Al-Jazeera has a long history of presenting exclusive speeches by and interviews with some of the world's most wanted terrorists, including Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders, Taliban leaders, and, most recently, with Al-Awlaki himself.

Al-Awlaki Praises WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, Criticizes U.S Government for Shutting Down Websites

In his February 14, 2011 recording, Al-Awlaki joined other jihadist groups, including the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF)[7] and Shumukh Al-Islam,[8] in praising WikiLeaks and criticizing the U.S. government for shutting down websites which it deemed harmful.

He said: "The Internet has become a world open to all information. It contains educational and instructional [content], but also corruption and licentiousness, all of which is open and readily available. But the war against the publication of truth [goes on], and, what is more, the U.S. is fighting to shut down websites like WikiLeaks, just because it reported facts about the American war in Iraq and about the conversations of American diplomats with their agents worldwide."[9]

Caption: "And today, the owner of WikiLeaks has been accused of the same."

Later in his speech, Al-Awlaki compared the U.S. campaign against WikiLeaks director Julian Assange to its pursuit of Al-Jazeera journalists accused of terrorism. He stated, "The U.S. [accuses] anyone who censures its corruption of being a terrorist, and dumps a sack full of [other] readymade accusations over him in order to designate him as one of its Muslim and other opponents. [The U.S.] has leveled a similar accusation at the owner of WikiLeaks, in order to keep [his site] busy and neutralize its work in disseminating the domestic secrets of the musty American [White] House."

In a previous video, dated May 23, 2010, Al-Awlaki discussed the shutting down of his own website: "They shut down my website following Nidal Hasan's operation [at Fort Hood]. I had posted an article of mine in support of what Nidal Hasan did, and so they shut down my website. Then I read in the Washington Post that they were monitoring my communications. So I was forced to stop these communications."[10] It should be mentioned that MEMRI was first to identify the California company hosting Al-Awlaki's website. After the company was informed, it removed the website.[11]

Al-Awlaki: Freedom of Expression, Democracy, Liberty – A Cover for America's Oppression; Obama's Allowing Gays in Military Shows How Degenerate Americans Have Become

In the February 14, 2011 speech, Al-Awlaki went on to denounce American freedom of expression, saying that it is actually an attempt to muzzle those who speak the truth – such as the aforementioned Al-Jazeera employees.

He noted: "The U.S. is an empire of vain desires, one which under the guise of liberty permits and spreads every crime, sin, and deviation from proper human nature. The U.S. and the West permit freedom of expression about all forms of apostasy and corruption; they permit everything, except telling a truth that brings shame upon them. The U.S.'s open corruption takes place at the highest level – that is, [at the level of] the president of the U.S. himself, who has approved a law permitting homosexuals to join the military, a matter that demonstrates the level of degeneration to which this people has sunk...

"[On the other hand,] no freedom of expression is afforded those who condemn the crimes of the U.S. and its agents, who rule [the world] by disseminating a great illusion called liberty, democracy, and human rights – phrases that are nothing but a cover for taking over the world's resources and treasures, oppressing the people, and depriving them of their rights."

Al-Awlaki Defends Al-Jazeera Journalists

In the February 14 speech, Al-Awlaki further said: "[Any] journalist or member of the media who tries to expose the truth about the U.S. and its agents to the world is put to a [difficult] test, [as evidenced by] the imprisonment of Sa'id bin Zu'air for censuring the Saudi regime, by the arrests of Taysir 'Aluni and Sami Al-Hajj for exposing the U.S.'s crimes in Afghanistan, and by the arrest in Yemen of liberal journalist 'Abd Al-Ilah Haidar Shai' for censuring American crimes in Yemen. After the Americans bombed Abyan and Shabwa, and the Yemeni government took credit for the operation, 'Abd Al-Ilah was the first to expose this plot to the citizens of Yemen... Shai' was the [lone] voice of truth amid an ocean of lies and fraud, and he was prosecuted on false charges in order to cover up the real reason for his arrest.

"[The U.S. and the West] want to hide the truth and silence people, [but] the candle lit by 'Abd Al-Ilah in the darkness... will not be extinguished under any circumstances, with Allah's help…[12]

"Taysir 'Aluni, Sami Al-Hajj, and 'Abd Al-Ilah Haidar are models of principled journalism, for a journalist is responsible to Allah for what he presents to the people...

"'Abd Al-Ilah did his duty as a journalist, and the journalists in [Yemen] and abroad, as well as the [members of] his tribe and all the citizens of Yemen, must fulfill their obligation to defend him. We say to 'Abd Al-Ilah and to any decent Muslim member of the media to ask Allah's help and not to show weakness."

Caption: "Abdul Elah fulfilled his journalistic obligation."

Caption: "Sa'eed Aali Za'eer was imprisoned due to his exposition of the Saudi regime."

Caption: "Tayseer Allouni and Sami al-Haj were imprisoned due to the exposition of America's crimes in Afghanistan."

Caption: "Indeed we encourage Abdul-Elah Shayi and all sincere Muslim journalists."

Specific Journalists Praised By Al-Awlaki

The following are brief biographies of the Al-Jazeera journalists named, defended, and praised by Al-Awlaki in his February 14 recording.

*Abd Al-Ilah Shai'

Abd Al-Ilah Shai' and AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi

Abd Al-Ilah Shai' is a Yemeni journalist and a frequent contributor to Al-Jazeera, who specialized in coverage of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups in Yemen. He was arrested by Yemeni security forces during an August 16, 2010 raid[13] and accused of giving Al-Qaeda media support.[14] On January 18, 2010, he was sentenced to five years in prison by the Yemeni government.[15]

Shai' conducted interviews for Al-Jazeera with Anwar Al-Awlaki,[16] as recently as December 28, 2009, when he discussed Al-Awlaki's communications with Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.[17] He also conducted an interview for Al-Jazeera with Nasir al-Wuhayshi, senior leader of the AQAP and a former secretary to Osama bin Laden.[18]

*Tayseer Allouni

Tayseer Allouni was born in Syria and later moved to Spain, where he has been a citizen since 1988. He is a reporter for Al-Jazeera who is well known for a post-9/11 interview with Osama bin Laden.[19] He began working with Al-Jazeera as a freelancer in 1996.[20] In 1999 he was sent by Al-Jazeera as a correspondent to Afghanistan.[21] Allouni lived in Kabul for two years and was one of the only foreign reporters to remain in the city. He was arrested in 2003 in Spain due to his Osama bin Laden interview, but released shortly thereafter.[22] In December 2004 he was again arrested in Spain, on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings. On September 26, 2005, he was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment by Audiencia Nacional of Spain for financially supporting Al-Qaeda.[23] Allouni was released from prison in 2006 for health reasons.[24]

*Sami Al-Hajj

Sami Al-Hajj, originally from Khartoum, Sudan, was a journalist and cameraman for Al-Jazeera.[25] On December 15, 2001 he was arrested by the Pakistani army on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.[26] The U.S. military accused him of falsifying documents, delivering funds to Chechen rebels, and having links to Al-Qaeda.[27] He was also accused of filming Osama bin Laden, but he denied all claims.[28] He spent six years at Guantanamo Bay but was never charged. He was released from Guantanamo on May 1, 2008.[29]

*Sa'id bin Zu'air

Sa'id bin Zu'air is a former professor at Imam Muhammed University in Saudi Arabia,[30] and served as a prayer leader at a Riyadh mosque.[31] He was arrested multiple times, and on April 19, 2004 was and banned from traveling for criticizing the Saudi government during a debate on Al-Jazeera about Osama bin Laden. He was also suspected of collecting and sending money to support terrorist organizations. On February 14, 2005 he was sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Saudi Court of Cassation. [32]

According to the Saudi Press Agency, bin Zu'air "had been arrested after appearing on a [Al-Jazeera] program on Thursday [April 15, 2004] for what he said on the broadcast. Zu'air supported the terrorist acts in Riyadh which targeted Muslims and non-Muslims… saying that the terrorist acts perpetrated by certain devious people were directed toward non-Muslims, and also saying it was permissible for those people who shed Muslim blood."[33] Zu'air's son was quoted as saying that authorities arrested his father "after [he] participat[ed] in Al-Jazeera's special coverage of an Osama bin Laden audiotape aired on the television channel."[34] It should be mentioned that international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have called for bin Zu'air's release, as they consider him to be a reformist.[35]

Osama Bin Laden Also Defended the Al-Jazeera Journalists and Those Mentioned in Al-Awlaki's Latest Speech

Some of the individuals defended in Al-Awlaki's latest message have in the past been similarly defended by Osama bin Laden. Bin Zu'air was among the jailed Islamists whose release was demanded in bin Laden's September 10, 2002 recording. In it, bin Laden said, "O God, may You free Sheikh Omar Abd Al-Rahman in America, our ulema (Muslim scholars) in the Arabian Peninsula and other countries… Sheikh Sa'id bin Zu'air and his brethren from the jails of the land of the two Holy Mosques (Saudi Arabia), and the youth of Islam everywhere."[36]

In another recording, released May 24, 2006, bin Laden defended Al-Jazeera journalists Al-Hajj and Alouni. He called for their release, claiming that they were not connected to "the events of September 11" and that they had been "imprisoned at the instigation of the American administration."[37]

*Steven Stalinsky is the Executive Director of The Middle East Media Research Institute.


[1] NPR, November 1, 2001.

[2] Baltimore Sun, October 28, 2001.

[3] See MEMRI JTTM No.2609, U.S.-Born Iman Anwar Al-Awlaki: 44 Ways of Supporting Jihad, October 21, 2009,¶m=GJN.

[4] See MEMRI JTTM No. 3581, Al-'Awlaki to Muslim Journalists: 'A Journalist Is Responsible to Allah for What He Presents to the People'; Keep Exposing the Crimes of the U.S. and Its Agents, February 14, 2011,¶m=GJN.

[5] See MEMRI JTTM No. 3581, February 14, 2011,

[6] See INSI, Yemen: One Journalist's Detention Extended, Another Released, September 24, 2010.

[7] See MEMRI JTTM, "Jihadist Overview of WikiLeaks Documents Release – [A] Modern Rebellion Against Modern Armies," December 23, 2010,¶m=JT.

[8] See MEMRI JTTM No. 3431, Jihadists Collect Names of All U.S. Interests Worldwide From Documents Released By WikiLeaks – For Possible Targeting, December 8, 2010.

[9] See MEMRI JTTM No. 3581, February 14, 2011.

[10] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.2638, U.S.-Born Yemen-Based Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki on His CA-Hosted Website: Fort Hood Shooter 'Nidal Hassan Is A Hero', November 9, 2009, U.S.-Born Yemen-Based Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki on His CA-Hosted Website: Fort Hood Shooter 'Nidal Hassan Is A Hero'.

[11] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.2638, U.S.-Born Yemen-Based Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki on His CA-Hosted Website: Fort Hood Shooter 'Nidal Hassan Is A Hero', November 9, 2009, U.S.-Born Yemen-Based Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki on His CA-Hosted Website: Fort Hood Shooter 'Nidal Hassan Is A Hero'.

[12] See, MEMRI JTTM No. 3581, February 14, 2011.

[13] See ANHRI, Yemen: A New Blow To Press Freedom The Arabic Network Condemns Sentencing The Journalist Abdul Ilah Sha'ee To 5 Years By A Special Court, January 19, 2011.

[14] See Gulf News, Yemeni Journalist Accused of Aiding Al Qaida Offshoot, September 20, 2010.

[15] See ANHRI, Yemen: A New Blow To Press Freedom The Arabic Network Condemns Sentencing The Journalist Abdul Ilah Sha'ee To 5 Years By A Special Court, January 19, 2011.

[16] See Newsweek, Exclusive: Yemeni Journalist Says Awlaki Alive, Well, Defiant, December 29, 2009.

[17] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 271, On - First Interview with U.S.-Born Yemen-Based Imam Anwar Al-'Awlaki on Major Hasan and the Fort Hood Shooting: Nidal [Hasan] Contacted Me a Year Ago, December 23, 2009,

[18] Yemen Post, April 10, 2010.

[19] See, Biggest Al Qaeda Trial in Europe Begins in Spain, April 22, 2005.

[20] See Cageprisoners, Tayseer Allouni,

[21] See Cageprisoners, Tayseer Allouni,

[22] See Cageprisoners, Tayseer Allouni,

[23] See BBC, Al Jazeera Reporter – What do the U.S. army and the Arab TV station Al Jazeera have in common?, September 25, 2003. In addition, Abu Mus'ab Al-Suri, Al-Qaeda's influential military ideologue, who is now being held in Syria, was Allouni's neighbor in Spain (see The Washington Post, Architect of New War on the West; Writings Lay Out Post-9/11 Strategy of Isolated Cells Joined in Jihad, May 23, 2006.)

[24] See Reuters, Health Release by Al-Jazeera Journalist in Spain, June 10, 2006.

[25] See Al-Jazeera, Profile: Sami al-Hajj, September 9, 2009.

[26] See Al-Jazeera, Profile: Sami al-Hajj, September 9, 2009.

[27] See The New York Times, From Guantanamo to Desk at Al Jazeera, December 22, 2009.

[28] See Al-Jazeera, Profile: Sami al-Hajj, September 9, 2009.

[29] See Al-Jazeera, Profile: Sami al-Hajj, September 9, 2009.

[30] See Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia Dr. Sa'id bin Zu'air, March 3, 2005.

[31] See, Dead or Alive: Bin Laden Still Strikes Terror in US, September 11, 2002.

[32] See Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia Dr. Sa'id bin Zu'air, March 3, 2005.

[33] See Arab News, Zuair Held for Backing Terrorism, April 19, 2004.

[34] See Arab News, Zuair Held for Backing Terrorism, April 19, 2004.

[35] Amnesty International mentions Sa’id bin Zu’air as "subject to censorship and banned from travelling," Arab News, April 14, 2004.

[36] See, Dead or Alive: Bin Laden Still Strikes Terror in US, September 11, 2002.

[37] See ABC News, May 23, 2006.

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