The pilot programme launched by the State Department comes at a time when intelligence officials say dozens of Americans have travelled or tried to travel to Syria since 2011 to fight with the rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a newspaper report said. (Agencies)
With al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen putting English subtitles on its website propaganda and Islamist extremist group in Somalia, the Shabab, publishing an English-language online magazine, American and European intelligence officials warn that al-Qaeda's efforts to recruit English-speaking fighters could create new terrorist threats when the "battle-hardened militants return home."
A small group of Arabic, Urdu, Somali and Punjabi-speaking analysts and bloggers at the State Department have focused their efforts over the last three years on trying to understand what "inspires their target audience, men 18 to 30 years old, mostly in the Middle East, to violent extremism, and on finding ways to steer them away from that."
Under the programme, the analysts would post messages and images on English-language websites that jihadists use to recruit, raise money and promote their cause.
"We need to be ready to blunt their appeal," said Alberto M Fernandez, a former American ambassador to Equatorial Guinea who is the coordinator of the State Department office, the Center for Strategic Counter-terrorism Communications (CSCC).
"The online messaging aims to create a competing narrative that strikes an emotional chord with potential militants weighing whether to join a violent extremist group," the report said.
One online image shows photographs of three American men who had travelled to Somalia and died there, including Omar Hammami, a young man from Alabama who became an infamous Islamist militant.
The message accompanying the photo reads, "They came for jihad but were murdered by Al Shabab."
Another image to be posted shows a young man weeping over a coffin with a message that reads, "How can slaughtering the innocent be the right path?"
A posting aimed at English speakers wanting to travel to Syria bears a split photograph of Assad and Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri with the message "Assad and al-Qaeda in a race to destroy Syria. Don't make it worse."
Each of the online posts carries a warning, "Think again. Turn away." The center's postings would be clearly identified as belonging to the State Department and carry the agency's logo, agency officials said.
"Many jihadi foreign fighters from the West and at least one al-Qaeda affiliate, the Shabab, use English to recruit new soldiers online and sway the media, so it makes sense for the CSCC to write in English when trying to blunt their efforts," William McCants, a former State Department counter-terrorism official who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said.
Administration officials acknowledge that many challenges including financing delays and bureaucratic red tape have in the past hampered Fernandez's center.
"But State Department officials said that the Boston attack and mounting evidence of al-Qaeda's appeal to English speakers also focused attention on the problem in recent months at other agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, as well as, most important, the White House," the report said.
The pilot programme launched by the State Department comes at a time when intelligence officials say dozens of Americans have travelled or tried to travel to Syria since 2011 to fight with the rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a newspaper report said.