BAGHDAD, Iraq – A new online magazine purportedly posted by Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq has launched an effort to recruit Muslims to rid Iraq of infidels and apostates — its names for Americans and their Iraqi partners.
The colorful, well-designed magazine is named Zurwat al-Sanam (search), Arabic for "The Tip of the Camel's Hump" — a reference among Islamic militants to "the epitome of belief and virtuous activity."
The inaugural 43-page issue was posted two days after Al Qaeda in Iraq (search), the group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), claimed responsibility for an attack Monday against police and army recruits that killed 125 people in Hillah, just south of Baghdad.
The group has also said it was behind car bombings and attacks that killed 14 police officers Wednesday. Al-Zarqawi's organization has been blamed for many of the bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.
Washington-based counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann told The Associated Press the magazine aims at "conveying the sense that the organization is professional, capable and really understands what they're doing."
It was designed as "an attempt to refute the idea that al-Zarqawi and these people are desperate. ... It shows that these people have time on their hands and don't have to worry about mobility."
Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the designated "media coordinator" for al-Zarqawi's group, posted the magazine on the Internet late Wednesday.
Saved as an attachment, it has appeared on at least two extremist Islamic Web sites that have previously posted Al Qaeda statements and claims of responsibility.
Mainly a rehash of letters, tracts and texts that have previously appeared on the Internet, the magazine includes a vow of fealty from al-Zarqawi to Usama bin Laden (search) and a pledge to keep fighting.
It also includes excerpts from a bin Laden letter commending al-Zarqawi's fighters. The letter appears to be a patchwork of past speeches made by bin Laden.
Al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to bin Laden last year in a letter posted on the Internet. In an audiotape aired later on the Al-Jazeera television network, bin Laden endorsed al-Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq.
The letter from bin Laden appearing in the magazine refers to al-Zarqawi as the "emir" of Al Qaeda in Iraq and calls on people to "obey him."
"There's a great difference between the sincere mujahedeen emirs who give up leadership for the sake of their religion and nation, and the region's kings and presidents, who refuse to unite the nation and scrap borders drawn by the crusaders," bin Laden writes.
The cover includes Al Qaeda in Iraq's logo of an AK-47 standing in an open Quran, with a globe in the background and an arm and finger pointed upward. It also has pictures of President Bush, bin Laden, and Abu Anas al-Shami — the late spiritual leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The magazine includes a profile of al-Shami, who was killed in a September airstrike in the western Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib. Al-Shami, a Palestinian, was a close aide to al-Zarqawi.
It says "enlightening Muslims and calling upon the people to follow the faith and way of Sunnis" was its main goal. Dated February 2005, it promised to be the first of many issues.
Elsewhere, al-Zarqawi's spokesman Abu Maysara defines Al Qaeda in Iraq as "a group of Sunnis" seeking "to regain all the lands of Muslims from the hands of the infidels and the apostates."
Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq's population but were favored under Saddam Hussein's regime, have been prominent in the insurgency, which began with the U.S. occupation and has persisted through the election of a Shiite-dominated government.
The group's "edict committee" also condemns democracy and elections as "Western" and "un-Islamic" concepts.
"Democracy and parliaments, my brothers, are from the religion and desires of the infidels," the article says. "Democracy means the rule of the people ... which means that who is to be obeyed and worshipped is man, not God."
Abu Maysara calls on all Arabs to heed the call of jihad — or holy war.
Similar online magazines have appeared in the past, including the widely circulated "Sawt al-Jihad," issued by Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, and "Al-Khansaa" aimed mostly at women.
The authenticity of such magazines is hard to verify.
Experts said many of the new magazine's articles appeared to conform with bin Laden and Al Qaeda ideology.
Cairo-based Islamic expert Mohamed Salah said it appeared credible because of "the language and production" involved.
"Experience has shown that they (militants) have become very qualified in using the Internet," Salah said. "They seem to be waging an online war and they seem to be winning it."
According to Kohlmann, the counterterrorism expert, the magazine is an indication that the group is trying to improve its recruitment efforts.
"This is more real propaganda than the regular statements on the (online) forums. They graduated into a new world of propaganda," he said.