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Download al Qaeda manuals from the DoJ, go to prison?

In the UK it's all down to your motivation

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Analysis If you download "the al Qaeda manual," never share it, even if you're a scholar-in-training studying terrorism. Especially if you and the recipient go by the wrong kind of names.

In mid-May, University of Nottingham master's student Rizwaan Sabir apparently sent the electronic manual to a school clerk, Hicham Yezza, for printing. This triggered an investigation in which counter-terror police arrested the two and held them for six days, after which Sabir was released without charge. However, Yezza was held on an immigration violation and is in custody, threatened with deportation to Algeria.

Reg readers know now that reading the wrong stuff in the UK gets you on the fast track to prison for one possession of something likely to be of use to potential terrorists. Technically, get-out-of-jail-free cards have been issued for journalists and academics, both of which have a well-defined public interest in writing about and analyzing such documents. However, under the current climate it's inevitable that those with good reasons for possessing jihadi electronic documents will find themselves in anti-terror cross-hairs.

The paradox in this case is that the source of the so-called al Qaeda manual. According to UK reports, Sabir downloaded it from the US government.

Readers may already know that when someone cites a document attributed to al Qaeda, it's time to squint and look closely. Because one either won't be getting the entire picture, or its historical context and provenance will be distorted in some interesting but painful and politically expedient manner.

The "al Qaeda manual" was posted to the US Department of Justice website years ago.* It is more accurately known as the "Manual of Afghan Jihad" or "Military Studies in the Jihad [Holy War] Against the Tyrants." (Or simply the Manchester manual, from its place of confiscation.)

You can think of it as a mouldy oldy, dragged out and banged about to shake loose a dust of fear when counter-terror men need some to sprinkle on the polity.

The "Manual of Afghan Jihad" was obtained in Manchester in April 2000 by British anti-terrorism agents and subsequently turned over to the FBI's Nanette Schumaker later that month. It was originally the property of Nazib al Raghie, also known as Anas Al Liby to the US government. Al Raghie was the equivalent of an old pensioner from the Afghan war living in retirement in Britain. At the time the manual was confiscated during a counter-terror recce operation, UK authorities were not interested in him. Neither, apparently, was the FBI and he was not arrested. Not unexpectedly, he then disappeared.

Translations of it have been copied onto the web but at least two (and possibly more) primary sources for it lie within the jurisdiction of the US government, one on a Dept of Justice server and another at the Air Force's Air University. Since they're officially sanctioned sites, they are seen as legitimate sources by those who would study it, as well as attracting the simply curious.

* The US DoJ originals of the manual, edited, are split into four parts, part one; part two; part three; part four. The Air University mirror, cited by the White House, hosts it here.

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