CAIRO, Egypt - Al-Qaeda has invited journalists to send questions to its No. 2 figure, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the first such offer by the increasingly media-savvy terror network to "interview" one of its leaders since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The invitation is a new twist in al-Qaeda's campaign to reach a broader audience and is an effort by Zawahiri to present himself as a sophisticated leader rather than a mass murderer.
The move "shows how this group with seventh-century ideology is exploiting 21st-century media capabilities," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and professor at Georgetown University in Washington.
The advertisement, issued by the group's media arm, Al-Sahab, on an Islamic militant Web site, invites "individuals, agencies and all media" to submit written questions for Zawahiri by sending them to the Web forums where Al-Sahab traditionally posts its messages.
Al-Sahab asked the forums to send it the questions "with no changes or substitutions, no matter whether they agree or disagree" with the question.
It said it would take questions until Jan. 16; after that, Zawahiri will answer them "as much as he is able and at the soonest possible occasion." It did not say whether his answers would be in writing, on video or on audiotape.
The authenticity of the invitation, first posted Sunday, could not be independently confirmed. But it was posted with the logo of Al-Sahab and the style of graphics and calligraphy it traditionally uses, along with a photo of Zawahiri. The ad appeared on several Web sites that Al-Sahab officially uses for issuing messages.
Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri have given a few interviews to Western and Arabic press since they first rose to prominence in the 1990s. But neither has been interviewed since the 2001 attacks and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which toppled al-Qaeda's patrons the Taliban and sent al-Qaeda's leaders into hiding.
They are believed to be in the lawless regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Since then, Zawahiri has emerged as al-Qaeda's most prominent spokesman. He has appeared in at least 16 videos and audiotapes this year, compared with four for bin Laden.
As a whole, the terror network's messaging has dramatically increased this year. According to IntelCenter, a U.S. counterterrorism center that monitors militant message traffic, Al-Sahab has issued more than 90 videos in 2007, more than the total number for all three previous years.