Broadcasting al-Qaeda’s Message on Arab Satellite Television

Beginning in 1999, Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera became the preferred media outlet for al-Qaeda to broadcast its interviews and video tape messages. In a January 1999 interview on the network, Bin Laden praised the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.“Timeline of Al-Qaida Statements,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4686034/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/timeline-al-qaida-statements/#.U4uMaSjOddg. In September 2000, Al Jazeera broadcast a videotape that showed Bin Laden, three Egyptian clerics, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and others demanding the release of Omar Abdul Rahman, the “blind sheikh” who is serving a life sentence for planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and several other unsuccessful attacks.“Timeline of Al-Qaida Statements,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4686034/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/timeline-al-qaida-statements/#.U4uMaSjOddg.

The network continued broadcasting al-Qaeda’s videotapes for years after September 11, 2001, including on subsequent anniversaries of the attacks, allowing the group to claim responsibility for attacks, threaten future attacks, and provide proof to millions of viewers that its leaders were still alive.“Timeline of Al-Qaida Statements,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4686034/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/timeline-al-qaida-statements/#.U4uMaSjOddg.

However, the network did not simply act as a propaganda machine for al-Qaeda. As Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University, noted in 2006, Al Jazeera would bring in experts to discuss the tapes issued by Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri on air, which in one instance “transformed Zawahiri’s lecture into a dialogue and denied him the monopoly on political discourse he so craved.” In another instance when Bin Laden released a tape, the network “invited the able, Arabic-speaking American diplomat Alberto Fernandez to respond.”“Timeline of Al-Qaida Statements,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4686034/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/timeline-al-qaida-statements/#.U4uMaSjOddg.

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