Jihadi propaganda often marks important jihadi operations/violent events in order to establish these events as key milestones that shape the current jihadi movement. Usually, these events are reinterpreted as illustrations of the effectiveness of the violent jihadi struggle and its success in targeting its enemies. In other words, they are used as examples of jihadi victory against much stronger and more powerful Western forces and evidence of the imminent victory of jihadist Islam over Western imperialism and secularism.
In this specific image, Usama bin Ladin appears in the top left corner, above the skyline of New York and the iconic American symbol of Lady Liberty. The caption under the bust identifies him as: “asad al-islam usama b. ladin” (“lion of Islam, Usama bin Ladin”). The light rays emanating from Bin Ladin and the gray clouds in the background may be associated with the foretelling of divine anger and punishment. The latter is an especially likely interpretation in light of Lady Liberty’s visible destruction and the visual reference to the events of 11 September 2011.

In this image, the rider is carrying a black banner bearing the shahada (Islamic testimony of faith holding that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger). According to hadith, the black flag was the battle flag of the Prophet Muhammad and it was carried into battle by many of his companions. Since then, the image of the black flag has been used as a symbol of religious revolt and engagement in battle (i.e., jihad). In the contemporary Islamist movement, the black flag with the shahada is used to evoke notions of jihad and of reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate.

The caption (directed at Usama bin Ladin) expresses the sum of all the elements: “kull ‘am wa-anta qahir lil-salibiyyin” (“may you always be [lit. every year you are] the vanquisher of the crusaders”). The structure of the phrase in Arabic plays on the wording of the traditional Arabic greeting/blessing said on holidays or birthdays.

More Information
Group Name AQ
Group Type Jihadist Group
Dominant Colors Gray, Black
Secondary Colors Green, Yellow
Language Arabic
Isolated Phrases / Mottoes / Slogans 1) shahada 2) kull `am wa-anta qahir lil-salibiyyin 3) asad al-islam usama b. ladin
Image Number 0382
Groups Region of Operation Global
Body Parts Face / Bust
Air Clouds / Fog, Sky
Fire Light Rays / Light, Burning Object, Smoke
FIre Analysis Twin Towers
Geopolitical Symbols Non-country Flag, Slogan
Geopolitical Analysis Black flag
People Group Leader / Influential figure, Operational Leader, Operative / Warrior (=mujahid), Man / Men
People Analysis Usama b. Ladin (AQC)
Religious Textual References Shahada, Use of Calligraphy
Religious Textual References Analysis La ila illa Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah
Religious Symbols Black / White / Green Banners
Religious Symbols Analysis Black banner with text of shahada.
Fauna Horse
Topography Man-made Structure / Landmark
Topography Analysis Twin Towers and smoking NYC sky line
Visual Themes The horse and rider motif is common in Islamic imagery and jihadi visual propaganda.The importance of the horse in both pre-Islamic Arabia and Islamic culture is evidenced by pre-Islamic poetry, hadiths (prophetic traditions or reports) and other genres of literature ascribing horses with the positive qualities of chivalry and bravery in battle. For example, the beginning of the Qur’anic sura 100 talks about “running horses” that appear as galloping through the world toward the final goal, namely, Judgment Day. Horses are also symbolic of the first generation of Muslims and that generation’s successful military campaigns, and thus are often employed to evoke specific Salafi religious sentiments with regard to the military victories of Muhammad and his companions. The rider emphasizes the element of human agency in jihad, and is a way to enhance the traditional symbol of a horse and flesh out notions of aggression and the call to jihad. Overall, the horse and rider motif places current jihadi activities within the same unfolding dialectic as the jihad of early Islam.

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