Saturday, March 11, 2006

Al-Qa'eda Steps Up Propaganda War With Bloodthirsty DVDs

By Isambard Wilkinson and Imtiaz Ali
London Daily Telegraph
March 11, 2006

Al-Qa'eda is flooding the unruly border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan with propaganda DVDs, in a media campaign designed to win recruits and sympathy.

The films, sold for 40p each in local markets and distributed throughout Pakistan and across the Afghan frontier, depict Taliban forces attacking American, Pakistani and Afghan soldiers. Punishment killings and damage inflicted by American and Pakistani forces on both Islamic fighters and local civilians are also portrayed.

To the alarm of the Pakistani authorities, the blood-soaked movies sell well in the hard-bitten North West Frontier Province, despite a police crackdown on their production and sale.

"We have moved against any form of production that is against Pakistan or our allies," said a spokesman for the government of the semi-autonomous, and largely lawless, Tribal Areas.

"Not only have we confiscated illegal films, but we have countered them with leaflets and messages broadcast through our three radio stations in the Tribal Areas".

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the region has become a refuge for local and foreign radical militants, believed to include Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Last week the Pakistani army temporarily lost control of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, to forces loyal to the Taliban and al-Qa'eda.

It was the heaviest fighting witnessed since an operation in 2003 when the army entered the Tribal Areas at the behest of America. During the operation to re-establish control over Miran Shah, the army claimed it killed more than 100 militants, while civilian casualties are unknown.

Despite the presence of 70,000 of its troops, the army has only managed to exert minimal control over the porous border region. The Miran Shah incident underlined fears that weak central government presence has enabled the free movement of militants, money, weapons and now propaganda in the region.

Qari Amanullah, a DVD shopkeeper in the town, said: "These jihadi DVDs have made our businesses flourish. There is a great demand for such films because they are popular with all age groups.

"Young boys used to watch movies, particularly Indian blockbusters, but now these DVDs have replaced movies and even young boys are going to be addicts.

"The DVD showing the recent killing of bandits by the Taliban and then hanging their dead bodies from electricity pylons is the current top of the chart."

He said that a DVD about Taliban fighters, The Young Eagles of High Mountains, is another hit with about 20,000 copies already sold.

The films, mostly scripted in Urdu, Pashto and Arabic, are produced by two "production companies", Ummat Studios and Jundullah CD Centre. The films do not mention their contact details, but the Shawal and Mir Ali areas of Northern Waziristan - the latest battlefield for Pakistani troops - are believed to be the centre of production.

Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qa'eda computer expert, is said to have visited South Waziristan before his arrest in Lahore last July.

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