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New English-language jihadi publication calls on Muslims to hack US drones

New English-language jihadi publication calls on Muslims to hack US drones
A new magazine set up by Islamist radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan is appealing to Muslims of the world to collaborate in developing new methods and technology to undermine American drone operations.

Publishing under the title “Azan,” the magazine’s first edition became available on May 5, according to the SITE intelligence group. The sprawling 80-page issue includes a lengthy section that evaluates drone strikes while making the case for a mass movement to undermine their impact.

The editorial calls for assistance against drones as a “sacred duty” of the Ummah, or the Muslim community.

“These drones can be hacked and manipulated as evidenced by the efforts of the Iraq Mujahideen. Furthermore, they can be destroyed using various technologies that the Mujahideen are working on. But the Muslims of the world must question themselves as to what role they are playing in helping these innocent Muslims with the abilities that Allah Has Given them. This is a call to anyone in the Islamic Ummah with knowledge, expertise and theories regarding anti-drone technology.”

The hacking to which the article refers is a 2009 incident in which Iraqi insurgents evidently deployed commercial software called SkyGrabber to tap into live video feeds put out by US Predator drones in Iraqi airspace.

The story, originally reported by the Wall Street Journal, attributed the exploit to Iranian-backed militants. At the time, the report also suggested that drones in Afghanistan had been exploited in the same manner.

"Any opinions, thoughts, ideas and practical implementations to defeat this drone technology must be communicated to us as early as possible because these would aid the Ummah greatly in its war against the Crusader-Zionist enemy," reads the entreaty by the magazine's editors.

Azan depicts Pakistan’s Army and government as collaborators with the US in the continuing American drone campaign, though the US is shown to be the “main culprit.”

Reuters / Khaled Abdullah

A significant portion of the magazine’s drone editorial is dedicated to describing how local spies and militants are recruited and bribed by the Pakistani Army from such locations as Miranshah Camp, and count on the assistance of other groups, such as KFP (Koast Protection Force), which is described by Azan as “an Afghan organization, whose hypocritical and beguile exploits are known.

As to any technical insights provided, these mainly pertain to the methods by which “chips” and other callsigns are left by the alleged US/Pakistani Army recruits on the homes, and sometimes the vehicles, of targeted militants.

What is perhaps most intriguing about the jihadi publication’s analysis of the drone threat is its portrayal of Pakistan’s so-called duplicity, basing much of its ideological reasoning on quotes by an ex-Pakistan senior air force  officer, Sultan Hali, who himself has criticized his country’s deep involvement in US drone strikes.

“It is convenient to have the US as a scapegoat. You can easily say that these drone attacks are being done by the Americans. The Americans don’t really like this policy of ours and they have declared their displeasure at this many times. But still, it is in our interest that we continue to blame the Americans regarding this, because if we admit to the killing of innocent women and children alongside running the entire drone system, then the results will be disastrous. The consequences shall have to be faced by whichever political party is in power.”

Azan covers regions where Al-Qaeda operates ranging from Syria to Mali, but mostly concentrates on Pakistan.

As to whether Azan might be successful in fomenting a credible technological threat to US drone operations is unclear, though both its political analysis and what technical analysis there is of drone strikes suggests that it could pose a concern in the future.