A recent report in al-Sharq al-Awsat stated that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, “has not used any forms of modern communication such as telephones (land lines or wireless), e-mails or the Internet for over four years, regardless of the severity of his circumstances (source).” According to al-Qaeda member Mohammad Hasan Khalil al-Hakim, al-Zawahiri has avoided using information communications technology because al-Zawahiri fears being tracked by hostile security services.
While it is true that US intelligence agencies have sophisticated technical collection capabilities, al-Zawahiri’s decision to completely abandon all forms of information communication technology represents a mix of fear and respect of intelligence gathering capabilities. Given the amount of communications options available, as well as the ready access to various encryption and obfuscation technologies, it is unlikely that US and Western intelligence services can reliably track all forms of terrorist communications in near real-time.
However, this fear hardly matters and does not appear to have slowed down al-Zawahiri or other al-Qaeda affiliated propaganda efforts. As an example, Zawahiri this year alone has released four audiotapes and videotapes via the al-Qaeda affiliated as-Sahab Media Foundation. Despite his fear of information communication technology, al-Zawahiri has still made reliable use of the Internet to disseminate propaganda and communicate with al-Qaeda followers. Although al-Zawahiri does not upload his videos himself and instead relies on a complex network of human and online couriers to upload the videos, his videos are still uploaded to web and viewed by a broad and dispersed audience of sympathizers and operatives.
Therefore, even if it is true that al-Zawahiri does not use information communications technology to exercise command and control over al-Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist groups, he is still able to exercise a tremendous amount of influence over the global jihadist movement by releasing his statements on the Internet via endorsed media organization like as-Sahab.