Extremists in Tribal Areas Use Gory DVDs to Celebrate, and Exaggerate, Their Exploits

By Imtiaz Ali
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- While al-Qaeda and its allies use the Internet to promote their causes around the globe, extremist elements on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have unleashed a media campaign at home, producing professional-quality DVDs for distribution among sympathizers.

Extremist propaganda has long been produced in the lawless haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda known as the "tribal belt." Lately, however, there has been a regional boom in DVDs celebrating al-Qaeda operations, beheadings of purported U.S. spies and scenes of Taliban fighters attacking U.S. forces.

"This is a media war on the part of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, aimed at exaggerating their victories as well as getting maximum sympathies of the masses through horrific footage and emotional sermons," said Silab Mehsud, a tribal journalist working in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Primarily scripted in Urdu, Pashto and Arabic, the DVDs are readily available in many parts of the region for the equivalent of less than 50 cents. Most of them, according to shopkeepers and local tribal journalists, are produced by two companies -- Ummat Studios and Jundullah CD Center.

The production centers operate like smaller, local versions of as-Sahab, al-Qaeda's main communication organ, churning out propaganda aimed at terrorizing opponents, winning over sympathizers and recruiting fighters. Many who have seen or studied the DVDs say they believe that whoever produces them works in close coordination with as-Sahab.

"The sophisticated editing of these DVDs, particularly the mixing of clips of Hollywood action movies with locally taken footages of the military activities of the militants, show the incredible, skillful expertise behind these propaganda films," said Fazal Rahim Marwat, a professor of Pakistani studies at Peshawar University and author of two books on militancy in the border region.

The DVDs have become popular among local journalists eager to provide the footage to international news media.

Nasir Dawar, a tribal journalist who works for a local TV channel, said he was approached by a source in the region offering exclusive access to a DVD featuring the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, who had gone missing in early February in the Khyber tribal agency. Dawar said he didn't want to pay the asking price for the DVD, but someone apparently did.

The Arabic-language TV channel al-Arabiya broadcast the footage, showing the kidnapped ambassador surrounded by fighters, begging the government to help win his release. Azizuddin was freed last month.

"The price of an exclusive DVD and tape depends on the kind of footage," said Deen Mohmmand, a local journalist in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. "Most of the global TV channels are interested in the footages of militant activities, showing some high-profile figures, slaughtering of kidnapped people or soldiers. The price of a DVD can vary from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars."

Even when journalists aren't buying, other Pakistanis are. Jannat Gul, a shopkeeper in the bustling Karkhani bazaar, a hub for smuggled goods and pirated movies in Peshawar, said the DVDs sell well.

"This is a profitable business," Gul said. "People like jihadi DVDs."

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