By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
ROME, Sept. 26 -- An Internet video newscast called the Voice of the Caliphate was broadcast for the first time on Monday, purporting to be a production of al Qaeda and featuring an anchorman who wore a black ski mask and an ammunition belt.
The anchorman, who said the report would appear once a week, presented news about the Gaza Strip and Iraq and expressed happiness about recent hurricanes in the United States. A copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, was placed by his right hand and a rifle affixed to a tripod was pointed at the camera.
The origins of the broadcast could not be immediately verified. If the program was indeed an al Qaeda production, it would mark a change in how the group uses the Internet to spread its messages and propaganda. Direct dissemination would avoid editing or censorship by television networks, many of which usually air only excerpts of the group's statements and avoid showing gruesome images of killings.
The broadcast was first reported by the Italian Adnkonos news agency from Dubai. The 16-minute production was available on Italian newspaper Web sites.
The lead segment recounted Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which the narrator proclaimed as a "great victory," while showing Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia walking and talking among celebrating compatriots.
That was followed by a repeat of a pledge on Sept. 14 by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, to wage all-out war on Iraq's Shiite Muslims. An image of Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Sunni Muslim, remained on the screen for about half the broadcast.
The masked announcer also reported that a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to have launched chemical-armed rockets at American forces in Baghdad. A video clip showed five rockets fired in succession from behind a sand berm as an off-screen voice yelled "God is great" in Arabic. The Islamic Army asserted responsibility last year for the killing of Enzo Baldoni, an Italian journalist who had been kidnapped in Iraq.
A commercial break of sorts followed, which previewed a movie, "Total Jihad," directed by Mousslim Mouwaheed. The ad was in English, suggesting that the target audience might be Muslims living in Britain and the United States.
The final segment was about Hurricane Katrina. "The whole Muslim world was filled with joy" at the disaster, the anchorman said. He went on to say that President Bush was "completely humiliated by his obvious incapacity to face the wrath of God, who battered New Orleans, city of homosexuals." Hurricane Ophelia's brush with North Carolina was also mentioned.
The name of the broadcast refers to the Islamic empire that emerged following the death of the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century, eventually stretching from Turkey to Spain and creating an era of Islamic influence that bin Laden has said Muslims should reestablish. According to credits following the broadcast, it was produced by the Global Islamic Media Front.
Numerous radical Islamic organizations, some claiming affiliation with al Qaeda, spread information, including photos and videos, by the Internet. Some evade ongoing efforts to shut them down by disguising their presence within innocuous Web sites.