– As-Sahab is the primary media production and distribution network for al-Qaeda core leadership
– Since its inception, as-Sahab has steadily improved its capabilities and further refined its production and dissemination process
– Network is strategic asset for al-Qaeda as it allows the terrorist group to continue to communicate with both supporters and enemies
– We expect as-Sahab will continue to improve its production and distribution capabilities
As-Sahab, Arabic for “the Cloud”, serves as the media production and distribution network for al-Qaeda’s core leadership including Osama bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Yahya al-Libi. As-Sahab personnel and facilities appear to be located somewhere near al-Qaeda’s core leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
It is widely believed that well-known Muslim convert Adam Gadahn, aka Azzam al-Amriki, holds an influential position within as-Sahab. Gadahn appears to translate a number of as-Sahab tapes into English and is also thought to help shape al-Qaeda’s message in an effort to increase the availability of al-Qaeda’s message to the American public (Previous Report).
In the summer of 2001, As-Sahab released its first major video online. The nearly two-hour video titled, “The Destruction of the USS Cole,” did not contain actual footage of the attack however it presented previously unseen recordings of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and clips from al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. In an effort to reach a broad audience, the video was presented in both English and Arabic. Foretelling its future capabilities, the video showed signs of technical sophistication, cinematic effects, unique footage, and multilingual capabilities.
Production and Dissemination
Al-Qaeda is believed to have several cameramen and couriers at its disposal. These cameramen are responsible for filming an al-Qaeda’s leaders presentation. Once complete, the tape is handed-off, likely via human couriers and the Internet, to as-Sahab post-production specialists for final editing and production. One as-Sahab tape allegedly goes through multiple layers, of persons unknown to each other, before it reaches its final form and destination.
Although as-Sahab does not maintain an official website, its productions are distributed via the Internet often by the al-Fajr Media Center – an online distributor of Jihadist propaganda. Typically once as-Sahab has finished post-production work on a tape it is uploaded to a number of free online file-sharing services such as the Internet Archive (Previous Report). One uploaded, links to the tape’s location on the file-sharing sites are posted to a number of popular and highly trafficked al-Qaeda affiliated websites. The tapes are then downloaded by al-Qaeda sympathizers and re-distributed to a number of prominent and reputable video sharing sites such as YouTube and LiveLeak (Previous Report).
Since its inception, As-Sahab has steadily improved its capabilities and further refined it production and dissemination process. As such, it continues to escalate its production and release cycle. For example, as of September 2007, as-Sahab had released approximately 77 tapes throughout – making the year it’s busiest to date. This tempo has already far outpaced 2006, as-Sahab’s next busiest year, when it released 58 tapes.
In addition to its increased number of releases, as-Sahab has also improved the timeliness of its releases. As-Sahab has demonstrated the ability to rapidly produce and release tapes that offer al-Qaeda’s view on current events. For example, as-Sahab was able to rapidly release a statement on the siege of the Red Mosque by Ayman al-Zawahiri (Previous Report). The siege at the Red Mosque lasted eight days – from July 3, 2007 to July 11, 2007, and as-Sahab released Zawahiri’s statement on the same day that the siege ended highlighting the network’s ability to respond to current events in near real-time.
The improved production and dissemination capabilities indicates that as-Sahab
– Employs a number of resources including trained personnel
– Likely enjoys safe haven and feels secure to operate at a high tempo
– Has mastered a secure production and dissemination process
It is also possible that al-Qaeda is becoming increasingly desperate. The most recent major successful attack on Western soil claimed by al-Qaeda was the 2005 London transit bombings – an attack that many analysts attribute to a cell of homegrown British radical Muslims more than al-Qaeda’s core leadership .
Absent any major attacks, as-Sahab remains one of al-Qaeda’s primary mechanisms to influence Western audiences. This lack of leverage may explain the dramatic increase in number and timeliness of as-Sahab productions over the last two years.
Regardless of why or how as-Sahab has been able to improve the quality, number, and timeliness of its productions, it seems clear that as-Sahab will remain a key tool for al-Qaeda in the future. Absent any significant pressure or disruption, we expect as-Sahab to continue to improve its production quality and timeliness.