Looks like al-Qaeda needs better server techs.  Most of their on-line forums, used to disseminate the latest in lunacy from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, have been off-line since September 10th.  Hmmm … could that be a coincidence?

Four of the five main online forums that al-Qaeda’s media wing uses to distribute statements by Osama bin Laden and other extremists have been disabled since mid-September, monitors of the Web sites say.

The disappearance of the forums on Sept. 10 — and al-Qaeda’s apparent inability to restore them or create alternate online venues, as it has before — has curbed the organization’s dissemination of the words and images of its fugitive leaders. On Sept. 29, a statement by the al-Fajr Media Center, a distribution network created by supporters of al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups, said the forums had disappeared “for technical reasons,” and it urged followers not to trust look-alike sites.

For al-Qaeda, “these sites are the equivalent of pentagon.mil, whitehouse.gov, att.com,” said Evan F. Kohlmann, an expert on online al-Qaeda operations who has advised the FBI and others. With just one authorized al-Qaeda site still in business, “this has left al-Qaeda’s propaganda strategy hanging by a very narrow thread.”

These aren’t just vanity sites.  AQ needs their on-line forums to recruit and to spread propaganda throughout the Muslim world.  Their audience has been sharply reduced, and the one outlet still in operation has to wonder when its time will come.

Ellen Knickmeyer reports that the aura of invincibility has been stripped from their on-line operations, which supplies no small amount of irony.  That was their aim in the 9/11 attacks — to strip Americans of that same sense of security.  On al-Hasbah, the last remaining operational site, users now pray for protection from … well, no one really knows who took the sites down.  Western intel won’t say, and it could be independent hackers looking to do their part in the war.  On the other hand, that September 10th timing looks like a message to AQ.

The news isn’t all good.  Intel agencies like to monitor the forums for a variety of reasons.  Jihadis plot attacks through these sites, and the information gleaned can alert counterterrorist operations ahead of time.  Arguments over tactics and philosophy can also give Western agents information on how to counter AQ propaganda and recruitment.  Those are the reasons that intel agencies have not been terribly supportive of independent attempts to disrupt AQ sites.

Still, one has to cheer any time our enemy finds itself in disarray.  Let’s hope that the entire AQ network goes 404 soon.