Courtesy Wired Magazine, Sarah Lai Stirland
Senior advisers to John McCain on Wednesday lashed out at the news that a prominent al-Qaida sympathizer is rooting for their candidate.
“This individual knows that an endorsement by people like him is a kiss of death both figuratively and literally,” said CIA director and current McCain adviser Jim Woolsey. “It’s pretty clear that by making this statement that it would be good for McCain to be president, he’s trying to damage John McCain â€” he’s not speaking from his heart.”
The supposed McCain endorsement appeared Monday on a private Islamic extremist forum, al-Hesbah. The author â€” a longtime contributor going by the name Muhammad Haafid â€” suggests that al-Qaida should launch a terror attack against the United States before the election, so that Americans would vote for McCain. Haafid argued that McCain would continue the policies of President Bush and keep the country embroiled in costly overseas wars, aggravating America’s financial crisis.
“Al-Qaida will have to support McCain in the coming election,” wrote Haafid, adding that McCain would follow the “failing march of his predecessor.”
The McCain campaign convened a conference call Wednesday to address the extremist’s endorsement, and attack The Washington Post, which ran a story about the comments.
Former CIA director and current McCain adviser Jim Woolsey argued that Haafid’s statement â€” made in Arabic on a password-protected forum â€” was intended for public consumption, and was an indirect effort to harm McCain’s candidacy.
Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser, said al-Qaida is afraid of McCain, because “John McCain will spend what it takes to win the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Sheunemann went on to slam the Post for reporting on “statements on an obscure website, made by an obscure individual, where words have to be twisted to create headlines that The Washington Post chooses to put on its stories.”
But Adam Raisman, a senior analyst at the SITE Intelligence Group in Bethesda, Maryland, which monitors terrorism websites and uncovered the statement, said the Post story had been entirely faithful to the substance of Haafid’s statement.
“I don’t believe the words were twisted â€” this is what the jihadist said, and he’s been writing since 2003 with more than 600 posts,” Raisman said. “And there have been other posts in this regard as well â€” there have been many individuals saying this since early 2008.”
He added that postings on extremist websites are important because the forums serve as social communities and grassroots think tanks, generating ideas for “jihadist enthusiasts.”
“I’m not going to extrapolate that what one member writes is going to translate into an attack, but some of the members of the forum are active in the field,” Raisman said.
In addition, though the author of this post and the other members of such forums are not officially affiliated with al-Qaida, its top leaders apparently pay attention to them. Earlier this year, Raisman noted, top al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri answered questions posed to him by one of the members of one of the extremist forums.