An al-Qa’eda propagandist has revealed the inner workings of the terrorist network’s media machine, describing how he was summoned to a hideout in Afghanistan to shoot a video of Osama bin Laden’s deputy.
Qari Mohammed Yusuf, a cameraman, described in an interview with the Associated Press news agency how a courier brought a summons to him. It read: “The emir wants to send a message.”
The emir, meaning prince or commander, was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who wanted to broadcast a message of defiance proclaiming that he had survived an American air strike.
Yusuf, 30, claimed that he followed the courier’s directions to one of Zawahiri’s hideouts in January. “Everything was ready,” said the bearded cameraman. “There was just myself and the emir. I used a small Sony camera. It lasted just half an hour.
“They chose the place. They fix it and then they just say to me to come, and my job is only to record it. These are their rules, and no one asks any questions.”
The video was broadcast on Al-Jazeera, the Arab television network, on Jan 30, less than three weeks after the American air strike on a building just across the border in eastern Pakistan that targeted Zawahiri but instead killed 13 villagers.
Yusuf, an Afghan, said he is one of a half-dozen cameramen used by Zawahiri. Most are Arabs, and not all are known to each other, he said. He claimed that he had been a loyal and trusted servant of the Egyptian terrorist leader for several years, and in the interview gave no detail that could identify where Zawahiri’s hideout might be found.
But he described how a van converted into a computer-equipped “mobile studio” was sometimes used for editing by al-Qa’eda technicians and would visit Pakistani cities such as Peshawar or Lahore, where videos were then produced for the bazaars or for transfer to Arab television.
The speed with which the Taliban and al-Qa’eda manage to respond to events in Afghanistan and churn out propaganda has frustrated commanders. “The Taliban are winning the propaganda war,” said one senior British officer in Afghanistan.
The Afghan government took a swipe at the international community yesterday when President Hamid Karzai said it had failed to heed his warnings on how to deal with the growing insurgency.