In recent years Europe has faced an increasing wave of so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks committed by jihadist (or jihadist-inspired) terrorists. This trend has continued in 2017. For example, the attacks in London and Stockholm, which were simple but devastating in their methodology. Both attacks used vehicles to run pedestrians down. While the London attacker disembarked to engage in a deadly knife attack, an unexploded bomb was subsequently found in the truck used in the Stockholm attack1. As has been noted by commentators, all of these methods have been described in detail in recent ‘how-to-guide’ articles in English language jihadist magazines, such as in the ‘Open Source Jihad’ (OSJ) section of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine and the ‘Just Terror’ (JT) section of ISIS’ Rumiyah magazine. These trends have re-opened the debate about the role and impact of such ‘how-to’ guides in provoking violence by providing would-be terrorists with the practical knowledge to carry out such attacks. Drawing on content analyses of Inspire and Rumiyah magazines, we argue that groups like ISIS and AQAP understand that their instructional material is of little value unless they can convince supporters to adopt their ‘competitive system of meaning’ (i.e. their way of perceiving the world, its actors and events). Thus it would be wrong to focus myopically on ‘how-to’ operational guides when trying to understand and counter violent extremist propaganda. This paper begins by exploring the history of instructional material in terrorist propaganda before going on to examine the role of Inspire’s OSJ section and Rumiyah’s JT section within the broader context of the groups’ messaging efforts. It concludes by outlining CT-CVE strategic communications recommendations for both proactively undermining this type of violent extremist messaging and responding post-incident to directed versus inspired attacks.
European Counter Terrorism Centre
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