Alberto Fernandez, the State Department’s Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, sat down for an in-depth interview on Alhurra’s Inside Washington. During the 30-minute interview, Fernandez explained that terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida have changed the way they do business.
“What you are seeing is the proliferation of the al-Qaida way-of-doing-things rather than al-Qaida as this octopus kind of controlling everything. This is dangerous.” He added, they “talk globally and kill locally.”
These groups, he went on to explain, need to promote a narrative, often through the Internet and social media outlets to a wide audience. His team at the State Department “pushes back” with the aim to “exploit and explode the myths that [al-Qaida] seek to put out in the public.” Fernandez emphasized that ”it is extremely important that the Muslim masses, the same audience that al-Qaida seeks to appeal to, have the facts about what they are actually doing.”
Fernandez said his team utilizes the same social media platforms that terrorist organizations use and he cited an example from the anniversary of Sept. 11th when al-Qaida supporters started a Twitter campaign to boast and celebrate 9/11. According to Fernandez, his team sought to redirect the conversation. “We jumped on that hash tag. We talked about basically that bin Laden is a criminal who, according to Islamic law, according to Islamic tradition, is a mass murderer of Muslims. Of Muslims– we’re not even talking about 9/11…the whole hash tag, the whole discussion shifted. Instead of celebrating 9/11, the hash tag discussion shifted to basically defending al-Qaida, defending al-Qaida against the claim that they are mass murderers of Muslims. They wanted to make it about their victory against the West, against us. And we made it about the nature of the beast, the nature of their own reality.”
Fernandez also stated that he didn’t think the number of hardcore al-Qaida operatives is growing very much, but cautioned that their influence was still of concern. He commented that, “it’s not just about a small group of fanatics in the mountains…it’s these other people that are looking for an ideological, political home.” Fernandez cautioned that the circle of al-Qaida wannabes and could-be’s is much larger, and that the potential for a “spillover of the idea, spillover for violence is always there.”