One of the most sensitive documents recently revealed in the cache taken in Osama bin Laden’s house details the recruitment methods employed by al-Qaeda. Members of the international terror organization were especially instructed to target those Muslims who were deemed “common” and “ignorant.” In addition, the terror group targeted disaffected youth as well as those with criminal records and societal outcasts.
It is a strategy adopted today by ISIS, especially in its recruitment of supporters to carry out so-called lone-wolf attacks
The document, dated March 29, 2010 came with a caveat which read, “Warning: To be published among the media, but not for public publication, a special message to the brothers of the jihadist media.”
The document was written by the head of al-Qaeda in Libya, Aby Yahya al-Libi, who was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan in June 2012. Al-Libi, considered the mastermind of al-Qaeda propaganda, was third in command, after Bin Laden and his successor (and current al-Qaeda head) Ayman al-Zawahri.
In the document, al-Libi instructed:
“Concentrate your speeches and publications on the Muslim common people, do not to indulge in discussions with the so-called ‘elites.’ There is no one more beneficial to jihad or more quick to respond to its call or more loving to their people or more in solidarity with them than the common Muslim, because their nature, in most cases, is still pure and has the potential to do tremendous good.
“Even if they have sinned in some small or large ways…their thoughts have not been corrupted…We should approach the common people of our nation and the youth and talk to them in a way that incites their emotions and ignites their enthusiasm and little by little, you will see them responding to the call.
“Emotions and enthusiasm are very important and should not be neglected. The response of the common people to the effects of the emotions is much greater than the effects of the rational arguments and scientific discussion.
“As you all know, most common people are not familiar with scientific discussions and political analysis. They act according to their emotions. Even a photograph which is attached to an inspiring song will motivate a large number of them [for example, a photograph of] injured or poor people. This will cause merchants to give money for the sake of Allah.”
Commentators note this strategy espoused by al-Libi was not new. Rather he copied the successful strategies of previous radical groups throughout history — both inside and outside Islam.
However, for the strategists of al-Qaeda, focusing on the common people wasn’t enough. They also recruited Muslims with criminal records and the outcasts of society, whom they viewed as easy and valuable targets and especially trainable as suicide bombers.
Disaffected youths were also a major target of al-Qaeda, as al-Libi relates,
“We saw lots of lost youths without faith, just living among the nation with dead hearts, with no goals as if they were not part of the nation. Some were sinning, some taking drugs, some sitting hours on the internet, some who didn’t respect Allah or their parents.
“They stayed this way until Allah put the light of believe in their hearts. When they saw the face of a smiling martyr in a jihadi publication or they heard words of incitement or sat with the mujahis (jihadi warriors)…they come out from darkness to light, from death to life to become lions of the lions of Islam and heroes from the heroes of the nation.”
Al-Libi, an Islamic scholar who studied chemistry, was captured by the U.S. in Afghanistan but managed to escape from his prison cell in Bagram Air Force Base (the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan) in 2005 before paying the ultimate price in 2012.