Posts Tagged ‘Anwar al awlaki’

A new piece for Prospect, looking this time at al Shabaab and its foreign recruitment. A rich topic that I keep coming back to, though one thing I realized I missed after publishing it was any mention of Shabaab’s TV channel. As ever, any tips or thoughts are warmly appreciated.

Jihadi MCs

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI — 12TH APRIL 2011

The Islamist group al Shabaab is attempting to make jihad trendy. But is it having any success?

“I obsesses not depress for martyrdom success” raps hip-hop enthusiast and keen Islamist, Omar Hammami, in his recent comeback song. This track wasn’t intended to top any charts, but instead to prove that the elusive Omar was still alive. That the Alabama-born twentysomething, who is believed to be a senior figure in the Islamist group al Shabaab, chose to do this through the medium of rap is typical of the Somali terrorist group that has brought the notion of socially networked revolution to a whole new level.

Jihad is a young man’s game. Old codgers like Osama (54) or Ayman al-Zawahiri (59) may be able to provide some ideological and operational support for cells, but for the most part it is young men who are on the frontlines. As a result, Islamist networks trying to recruit fresh blood are increasingly using new media, social networks and other non-traditional means to spread their message. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group behind the “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and last October’s parcel bomb scare, even produces a flashy magazine called Inspire—full of funky imagery and slang, it looks more like a fanzine than a terror manual. Closer to home, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) releases bilingual videos with colloquial German subtitles to appeal directly to its core audience in Germany.

But it is Somali group al Shabaab (“The Youth”) that is at the forefront of this new media approach. Omar Hammami’s recent hip-hop release is merely the latest from the jihadi MC. In his earlier work “First Stop Addis” he rapped about his earnest desire to become a martyr, over shots of him and his “brothers” training and fighting in Somalia. Released through extremist websites, but also widely available on YouTube, the MTV-inspired videos and songs seek to show kids how cool it is to be a mujahedin. Other videos released by the group show young warriors from around the world speaking happily into the camera as they boast, sometimes in perfect English, of how much fun it is to be fighting against the “kuffar” (unbeliever) government in Somalia.

Videos and songs are all very well, but as any good PR manager will tell you, a multipronged approach is what’s really needed. Recognising this, al Shabaab encourages its young warriors to phone home in order to inspire others and raise money. Using dial-in conference calls, the warriors in the field tell those back home of the fun they’re having, and urge those who cannot come to send money instead. They shoot guns in the background while on the phone, “to see they are working ok” and to show off. And online, members have ongoing conversations with the friends they left behind, sending them Facebook messages along the lines of, “’Sup dawg. Bring yourself over here” to “M-town.” Meanwhile websites like al Qimmah provide a forum for the fighters in the field and the fundraisers at home to interact, keeping the flame of jihad in Somalia alive.

This holistic media outreach program seems to be reaping dividends for the group, who continue to attract a steady trickle of young warriors from across Europe and North America. Most recently, in Canada, police pulled 25-year old Mohamed Hersi off a plane he was about to take to Cairo on his way to join the group. A bored Toronto security guard, it seems he was only the most recent of a number of young Canadians who have joined the group. Similar cases can be found in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, among others.

The danger for western countries is that while al Shabaab is currently using its trendy web strategy to draw fighters to Somalia, a time may come when they attempt to punish the west directly for supporting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. They have already turned their attention to neighbouring Uganda, which contributes soldiers to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. If the recruitment drive succeeds, al Shabaab will have at their disposal a network of western passport-holding men, all of whom are at home in our hyperlinked society and know how to use technology to aid terrorism.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR)

A new post for Jamestown, this time looking at the German jihad again. The Arid Uka shooting at Frankfurt airport highlights the potential danger that exists out there. Thanks again to Guido for providing me with insights on this topic.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 14
April 7, 2011 03:42 PM Age: 10 hrs

Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar responsible for the killings at Frankfurt airport.

The shooting deaths in early March of two American servicemen at Frankfurt airport as they awaited a plane taking them to Afghanistan was an event that seemed to hearken back to the 1970s, when left-wing groups like the Red Army Faction (RAF) targeted American soldiers stationed in Germany. More in tune with the times, however, Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar responsible for the killings, appears to have been an individual living on the fringes of Germany’s growing Salafist scene (Der Spiegel, March 3). While abnormal in its success, Uka’s shooting was part of a jihadist scene in Germany that has been growing apace for some time.

Just over a week after Uka’s action in Frankfurt, a court in Berlin convicted Filiz Gelowicz of “supporting foreign terrorist groups” (AFP, March 9). Filiz is the wife of one of the German jihad’s more notorious members, Fritz Gelowicz, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison as part of Germany’s largest terrorism trial since the days of the RAF (Der Spiegel, March 4, 2010). Gelowicz was incarcerated for his role in a plot directed by the largely Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) to carry out a bombing on a U.S. military target in Germany. His wife Filiz confessed to sending money to German terrorist networks in Waziristan, and was accused of being a key online supporter of German jihadists fighting in Waziristan (AP, November 5, 2010; Der Spiegel, February 22, 2010).

The group is part of a larger community of German jihadists who have developed a close relationship with the IJU and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and who were eventually allowed to establish their own organization called the Deutsche Taliban Mujahideen (DTM). According to German terrorism specialist Guido Steinberg (formerly of the German Chancellery and now at the German Insititute for International and Security Affairs), the DTM is largely a propaganda vehicle founded by the IJU in 2009 in response to the growing number of German jihadists who had been arriving in Waziristan seeking to fight alongside the group. This view was seemingly confirmed by the published memoirs of late DTM member Eric Breininger (a.k.a. Abdul Ghafar al-Alamani), a German convert to Islam who had been fighting alongside the IJU when his leader came and asked him if he wanted to join a group of Germans who had recently completed their training and were going to join the Taliban as a sub-group called the DTM. [1] Breininger was killed on April 30, 2010, in a firefight in Waziristan with Pakistani soldiers (Der Spiegel, May 3, 2010; see Terrorism Focus, January 28, 2009). He was not the first from the group to have fallen in the region; a number of German jihadists had already been killed in battle and Turkish-German Cüneyt Ciftci (a resident of Bavaria) became Germany’s first known Islamist suicide bomber when he carried out an attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan in March 2008 (Der Spiegel, March 27, 2008).

But while this group seems to have largely managed to find its connections to jihadists in Waziristan by themselves, others have instead been directed through other networks tied to al-Qaeda. An example of this may be found in the experience of Bekkay Harrach (a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Alamani), a Moroccan-German whose death was announced by fellow extremists on Islamist forums in January (BBC, January 20, 2011). Harrach was a longtime extremist who had supposedly pursued jihad in the West Bank, Iraq and finally Waziristan. He was directed to the training camps in Waziristan by long-time German Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda supporter Aleem Nasir. Harrach was featured in videos released under the banner of As-Sahab, Al Qaeda’s media wing, as well as ones linked to the IJU. His death, however, appears to have occurred fighting alongside the IMU (for more on Harrach, see Terrorism Monitor, October 1, 2009).

Others who ended up with the group were drawn to Waziristan only after first connecting with American Islamist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Mounir and Yassin Chouka, Morocccan-born brothers who grew up in Bonn, were initially drawn to Yemen for jihad and claim to have met with al-Awlaki and an individual claiming to be a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden.

According to their account, after spending some time there with the cleric and his network, the brothers were told the region was very dangerous for foreigners and were instead directed to Waziristan, where they were warmly welcomed. Jihadist groups in Waziristan were at that time actively seeking to recruit entire families. Enthused by this, the brothers set off, arriving in 2008 in Waziristan to join the IMU – a group they claimed not to have heard of before. [2]

Other German jihadis drawn to Yemen have instead chosen to stay there rather than go to Waziristan. In March a court in Yemen convicted Yemeni-German Hans Harmel of being involved in forming an armed group to conduct terrorist acts (Yemen Post, March 5). The details of his case are unclear, but there are other reports of some German nationals showing up at Yemeni schools and training camps. The growing German Salafist scene is likely feeding both the Yemen and Waziristan networks. According to Steinberg, there are some 4000-5000 Salafists in Germany at the moment and “this is particularly worrying because all the German individuals who went to join al-Qaeda, IMU and IJU in Pakistan first attended Salafist mosques.” [3]

It is in many ways the threat as expressed by gunman Arid Uka that is of greatest concern to German authorities. While it is unclear whether he was linked to existing networks – according to neighbors he knew another recently repatriated German in his building who had been caught fighting in Waziristan and his Facebook page showed evidence of contact with German Salafists – his attack does not appear to have been directed by others and he appears currently to be a “lone wolf” extremist (AP, March 3). There have already been other cases of “lone-wolf” extremists lurking on the periphery of the German radical scene, including Cameroonian convert Kevin S., who had met one of Fritz Gelowicz’s co-conspirators and threatened to carry out an attack through an amateurish YouTube video when he was arrested, and Turkish-German Adnan V. who was convicted in February of trying to build a bomb, telling others about it online and posting extremist videos online (Deutsche Presse Agentur, February 8). While officials suggest there are about 220 citizens who have trained or are training in jihadist camps, only ten of the 120 who have returned to Germany are in jail. Faced with both al-Qaeda/IMU trained militants and self-radicalized German nationals operating outside the normal networks, German authorities remain uncertain as to the exact extent of a clearly growing threat.

Notes:

1. Translation summary can be found at: www.jihadica.com/guest-post-the-story-of-eric-breininger/.
2. An English summary of their account can be found at: ojihad.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/german-jihadi-brothers-met-anwar-al-awlaki/.
3. Raffaello Pantucci: “Terror in Germany: An interview with Guido Steinberg,”
www.icsr.info/blog/Terror-in-Germany-An-interview-with-Guido-Steinberg.

 

A new piece for HSToday, covering some of the ground I already touched upon with my earlier piece on Rajib Karim,but now going into greater detail about Awlaki’s clear obsession with flights to America. One detail I should clarify, the way the piece reads, it looks like I said that it was the voice message Awlaki sent Rajib and his brother that got security forces switched onto them. I do not know this for certain, though this certainly seems one of the earlier pieces of communication between Awlaki and the Karim to have been released. In fact, it seems likely that he was on radars for a while before this.

Britain Convicts Awlaki Acolyte Targeting US Bound Planes

By: Raffaello Pantucci

03/08/2011 (12:00am)

Last week a court in London convicted Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi national in the UK working for British Airways of plotting with the Yemeni-American Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, Anwar Al Awlaki, to attack flights bound for the United States.

According to information released during Karim’s trial, Karim exchanged emails with Awlaki in Yemen thinking through ways attacks could be carried out. The target for Awlaki remains America. In an email exchange with Karim, he is alleged to have stated “our highest priority is to attack the US.”

The prosecution asserted that Karim is “committed to an extreme jihadist and religious cause” and was “determined to seek martyrdom.”

Karim denied he got a job with the airline so that he could plan a terror attack, and maintained that “Islam teaches that you can’t target civilians.”

Karim’s conviction is clear evidence of a third attempt by Awlaki to attack aircraft bound for America. In the first known case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young London-educated Nigerian, hid an explosive in his underwear and boarded a flight from Ghana through Amsterdam to Detroit. He was overwhelmed before the explosive he carried could fully detonate and currently is in American custody awaiting trial.

A year later, a second attempt came in the form of a set of parcel bombs that originated in Yemen bound for targets in the US. Acting on information from a Saudi informant, one of the bombs was intercepted in Dubai and the other at East Midlands Airport in the UK. In a subsequent “special” edition of Inspire, the publication produced by AQAP, the group claimed credit for the attempted bombings, which it dubbed “Operation Hemorrhage.”

In the case of Karim, it is less clear exactly what Awlaki was planning, but emails between the two men disclosed a series of possibilities. An IT worker at British Airways at time of arrest, Karim moved to the UK in 2006 when he immigrated with his wife and child seeking medical aid for the child. The child got better, and while the move seems genuine enough, Karim by this point was a radicalized individual providing funding and logistical support for the Bangladeshi jihadist group, Jamaat al Mujahedeen.

Meanwhile, Karim’s younger brother, Tehzeeb, spent his time attempting to connect with jihadists in other parts of the world and ended up traveling to Yemen where he connected with Awlaki.

Having made contact with Awlaki using a path that went through the same language school in Sanaa as the one used by Abdulmutallab, Tehzeeb boasted to Awlaki about his brother who worked at British Airways in the UK. This immediately piqued Awlaki’s interest and the Al Qaeda spiritual leader contacted Karim to hear more about his position and how he could help him with his plotting to attack America.

Karim told Awlaki of knowing “two brothers, one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow, and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathize towards the cause of the mujahedeen.”

Several other men also were arrested in the initial sweep after Karim’s arrest, but nothing came of the possible charges against them. One was fired from his position at British Airways.

At another point during the plotting when it was announced that British Airways staff were going to go on strike, Karim suggested (and was encouraged) by Awlaki to sign up to act as replacement staff. But he was rejected on the basis that he had worked for the firm for less than five years.

Clearly seeing the potential of the Bangladeshi brothers, Awlaki paid special attention to them, and at one point even sent them a special voice message confirming that rumors of his death were untrue. It is likely that this communication tipped off intelligence agencies to Karim.

When initially arrested, Karim was calm, according to police sources, who suspect that his coolness stemmed from his belief that the security programs he had installed on his computer would keep his secrets hidden from investigators. Coupled with his cover as an IT worker for British Airways and a public persona co-workers described as “mild mannered, well-educated and respectful.”

Karim believed himself a perfect sleeper jihadist.

Police nevertheless were able to crack his encryption codes and methods of hiding information and uncovered a treasure trove of documents and information regarding his communications with Awlaki and his jihadist brother. They were able to piece together his plotting and his growing desire to leave the United Kingdom to conduct jihad.

Karim wrote on January 29, 2010″ “Without anything happening and also not being able to have any concrete plans to do anything here, my iman [faith] was getting affected. I started feeling like a real munafiq [hypocrite]. It has been three years that I have been living here away from the company of good brothers and spending a good part of my working day with the kuffar [infidels] … that’s why I desperately wanted to make hijrah [journey to fight jihad].”

For Awlaki, clearly, the preference would have been for Karim to attempt an attack in the West. And given Karim’s connections and position, it is easy to see how close he came.

 

A new piece for Jamestown looking at a case currently ongoing in the UK against a Bangladeshi chap who may or may not have been in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. An interesting case, and I have a feeling the fact he confessed to the JMB charges will probably play against him.

Al-Awlaki Recruits Bangladeshi Militants for Strike on the United States

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 7
February 17, 2011 04:43 PM Age: 3 hrs

Rajib Karim, Bangladeshi national resident in the UK who pled guilty to charges of assisting Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi national resident in the United Kingdom, pled guilty on January 31 to charges of assisting Bangladeshi terrorist group Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Confessing to helping produce and distribute videos on behalf of the JMB, sending money for terrorist purposes and offering himself for terror training abroad, Karim’s admission was made public at the beginning of a trial against him at Woolwich Crown Court in suburban London (Press Association [London], January 31; BdNews24.com [Dhaka], February 2).

Founded in 1998, the JMB is the largest extremist group in Bangladesh. The movement has expressed its opposition to democracy, socialism, secularism, cultural events, public entertainment and women’s rights through hundreds of bombings within Bangladesh. Though banned in 2005, the movement is believed to still maintain ties with various Islamist groups in the country.

On trial for further charges of preparing acts of terrorism in the UK, it has been suggested in the press that Karim was identified by the Home Secretary as a suspected agent for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (Press Association, November 3, 2010). [1]

According to information released at the opening of his trial, Karim first came to the UK in 2006 with his wife to seek a hospital for their child who was sick with what they thought was cancer (Guardian, February 2). The child got better and by September of the next year Karim had secured a position in a British Airways trainee scheme in Newcastle. According to the prosecution, he established himself as a sleeper agent in the UK, making “a very conscious and successful effort to adopt this low profile.” He kept his beard short, did not become involved in local Muslim groups, did not express radical views, played football locally, went to the gym and was described by people who knew him as “mild-mannered, well-educated and respectful” (Newcastle Evening Chronicle, February 2).

Much of the prosecution’s information on Karim appears to come from electronic communications between himself and his brother Tehzeeb that the police were able to find on Karim’s hard-drive. According to the prosecutor’s opening statement, Tehzeeb was also a long-term radical for JMB who travelled in 2009 with two others from Bangladesh to Yemen to seek out Anwar al-Awlaki (Press Association, February 1). Once connected with Awlaki, Tehzeeb told the Yemeni-American preacher of his brother. Awlaki recognized the benefits of having such a contact in place and in January 2010, the preacher is said to have emailed Karim, saying “my advice to you is to remain in your current position….I pray that Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you [to find] limitations and cracks in airport security systems.” The preacher apparently found the brothers of such importance that he sent them a personal voice message to counter claims of his death that had circulated in December 2009 (Press Association, February 2).

It seems as though Karim was in contact with extremist commanders long before this. According to the prosecution’s case, anonymous “terror chiefs abroad” wanted him to remain in his British Airways job as far back as November 2007 and to become a “managing director” for them. In an email exchange with his brother at around this time, the two discussed whether a small team could also “be the beginning of another July Seven;” a supposed reference to the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on London’s underground system (Press Association, February 2). It is unclear at the moment who these terror chiefs were, though it has been suggested Karim was in contact with Awlaki for more than two years.

By early 2011, Karim had become of greater concern to British police. His emails to his brother indicated that he was becoming restless and wanted to go abroad to fight. He had apparently spoken to his wife about this prospect, reporting to his brother that he “told her if she wants to, she can make hijrah [migration] with me and if the new baby dies or she dies while delivering, it is qadr Allah [predestined] and they will be counted as martyrs” (Press Association, February 2). He was also exchanging emails with Anwar al-Awlaki that indicated he had made contact with “two brothers [i.e. Muslims], one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathize.” Awlaki was doubtless pleased to hear this, though he indicated, “our highest priority is the U.S. Anything there, even on a smaller scale compared to what we may do in the UK, would be our choice” (Daily Mail, February 2). It seems likely that the “brothers” referred to were those picked up by police in Slough a month after Karim’s arrest, though none were charged (The Times, March 4, 2010; Telegraph, March 10, 2010).

This message and others turned up after Metropolitan Police, with the assistance of Britain’s intelligence agencies, were able to crack the rather complex encryption system that Karim used to store his messages and information on his computers (Daily Star [Dhaka], February 15). Much of this now appears to be the foundation of the case against Karim beyond the charges he has already admitted to as a member of JMB. JMB has some history in the UK; acting on a British intelligence tip, Bangladeshi forces raided a charity-run school in March 2009 and found a large cache of weapons and extremist material. One of the key individuals involved in the charity was a figure who is believed to be a long-term British intelligence target. In another case, two British-Bangladeshi brothers allegedly linked to the banned British extremist group al-Muhajiroun were accused of giving the JMB money. [2] In neither case was there evidence the UK was targeted and it seems as though prosecutors in this current case are more eager to incarcerate Karim for his connections with Anwar al-Awlaki and AQAP than for his involvement with JMB abroad.

Notes:

1. Theresa May speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), November 3, 2010,www.rusi.org/news/,/ref:N4CD17AFA05486/.
2. “The Threat from Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh,” International Crisis Group, Asia Report no.187, March 1, 2010,  www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/bangladesh/187_the_threat_from_jamaat_ul_mujahideen_bangladesh.ashx.

 

My latest for the Jamestown Foundation’s Global Terrorism Monitor, this time exploring the odd case of Roshonara Choudhry, which friends in the UK tell me is a really rather concerning sign about the levels of radicalization in the UK. It remains to be seen what actually ends up happening in the broader frame, but it is certainly an extraordinary story about how far one can push oneself when persuaded by dangerous ideas. It will be interesting to see what happens with this girl as time goes on. Should anyone see any interesting stories emerge, please let me know. More on the topic of Lone Wolves more generally soon. Thanks also to Peter for taking time to talk to me.

Trial of Would-be Assassin Illustrates al-Awlaki’s Influence on the British Jihad

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 44
December 2, 2010 01:45 PM Age: 7 hrs

By: Raffaello Pantucci

Roshonara Choudhry 

The conclusion in early November of the trial against 21-year-old Roshonara Choudhry, convicted of attempting to murder British member of Parliament Stephen Timms, marked the end of a case that dealt with the importation of the concept of the “lone jihadi” as espoused by American-Yemeni jihad ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki.  According to Peter Clarke, the former head of London’s Counter Terrorism Command, Choudhry’s actions highlighted the fact that “we are nowhere near getting the counter-narrative [to jihad] through,” and were described by British police as the first instance in which an al-Qaeda inspired Briton attempted an assassination on British soil (Guardian, November 3). [1]

The strange case of Roshonara Choudhry first came to the public’s attention on May 14, 2010, when she walked into MP Stephen Timms’ constituency office for an appointment she had made. Specifying that she had to see the MP rather than an assistant, when she arrived for her appointment Choudhry seemed “anxious” to the security guard working in the office (Telegraph, November 2).

After a short wait, Mr. Timms came out of his office to greet the young woman, who approached him as though to shake his hand. All dressed in black and wearing traditional Muslim garb, Timms “was a little puzzled because a Muslim woman dressed in that way wouldn’t normally be willing to shake a man’s hand, still less take the initiative to do so” (Telegraph, November 2). In fact, as described by Choudhry, the outstretched hand was a ruse: “I walked towards him with my left hand out as if I wanted to shake his hand. Then I pulled the knife out of my bag and I hit him in the stomach with it. I put it in the top part of his stomach like when you punch someone” (Telegraph, November 2).

The security guard and one of Timms’ assistants quickly restrained the young girl, and police and ambulance services were summoned. In an interview conducted hours after her arrest, Choudhry was open in describing her desire to die in the course of her action: “I wanted to be a martyr,” since “that’s the best way to die… It’s an Islamic teaching.” [2] Prior to her attack, Choudhry decided to clear all of her debts, something typical of aspirant Islamist martyrs (Guardian, November 2). When asked why she targeted Timms in her attack, Choudhry responded, “I thought that it’s not right that he voted for the declaration of war in Iraq,” adding that the ideas for this path of vengeance came from “listening to lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki” she found on the internet.

Choudhry appears to have been something of a model student, working up from humble beginnings in East London as one of five children of a Bangladeshi tailor. At the time of her attack, the family was largely living off of benefits and monies the children were able to raise through work. Her background did not prevent Choudhry from earning a place at the prestigious King’s College, London, where she studied English and Communications. In her spare time, she volunteered at an Islamic school and was seen as a prize student on course to achieve a first-class degree (the highest level in the British university system) (Guardian, November 2).

Sometime during her third and final year, Choudhry underwent a transformation and decided to drop out of her course: “Because King’s College is involved in things where they work against Muslims….they gave an award to [Israeli politician] Shimon Peres and they also have a department for tackling radicalization….So I just didn’t wanna go there anymore…cos it would be against my religion.” By her own account, the path that led her to attacking Timms was set in motion prior to her decision to drop out. She discovered Anwar al-Awlaki’s speeches sometime in November 2009, claiming that she found them through her “own research.” From his lectures she got the idea that “as Muslims we’re all brothers and sisters and we should all look out for each other and we shouldn’t sit back and do nothing while others suffer.” She was particularly taken by al-Awlaki’s speeches as “he explains things really comprehensively and in an interesting way so I thought I could learn a lot from him and I was also surprised at how little I knew about my religion so that motivated me to learn more.”

According to Choudhry, it was a video featuring the late Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (1941-1989) and his instruction that it is “obligatory on everyone [i.e. every Muslim] to defend [Muslim] land” that pushed her into the decision to act sometime in April 2010. At this point she decided to seek revenge on a member of the British parliament who had supported the invasion of Iraq using public information websites and a radical website called RevolutionMuslim.com that provided a list of MPs who had voted in favor of the Iraq invasion. Timms was specifically chosen because according to websites she had found, “he very strongly agreed with the invasion of Iraq.” Another factor was Choudhry’s own experience of meeting the MP as part of a school trip sometime in 2006 or 2007.

What is striking about the choice of Timms is that during this first meeting with the MP, Choudhry recalled a fellow student questioning Timms over his support of the war and of feeling that “she [the student] should be quiet and that she’s embarrassing herself.” Four years later, Choudhry had been radicalized to the point that she was willing to murder the same MP.

In the wake of Choudhry’s arrest, there was a spike of attention in the British media about the radicalizing impact of websites. In a speech in Washington, DC, Security Minister Lady Pauline Neville-Jones raised the issue of YouTube hosting videos by radical preachers and other US websites that hosted material she described as “inciting cold blooded murder” (Guardian, November 3). On November 17, British police arrested 23-year-old Bilal Zaheer Ahmand from Dunstall, Wolverhampton for soliciting murder and possessing information likely to be useful to terrorists. The young man was allegedly linked to RevolutionMuslim.com, which published the list of MPs who had voted for the Iraq war and a post which praised Choudhry as a “heroine” (BBC, November 17; Telegraph, November 17). Whether Ahmand will be successfully convicted is still in question. A trial in July against Mohammed Gul, a 22-year-old London student who was allegedly uploading radical videos to a website and who was in contact with extremists abroad, concluded with a hung jury and will go to retrial next year (Romford Recorder, July 27, 2010; Daily Mail, February 24, 2009). For Choudhry, however, the future is clear; on November 3 she was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 15 years. She is currently being held as a “Category A” prisoner, meaning she is subject to intrusive strip-search regimes every time someone visits, something she finds demeaning and against her faith and which has, as a result, kept her in isolation since her incarceration (Guardian, November 2).

Notes:

1. Peter Clarke, interview with author, November 2010.
2. Unless otherwise indicated, Choudhry’s quotes are taken from her police interview, published by the Guardian, November 3, 2010:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/03/roshonara-choudhry-police-interview.

Another post for Free Rad!cals, this time looking at Anwar al Awlaki. Admittedly, not amongst the most in-depth pieces around about the man, but it is striking to consider the size and diversity of the community over which his ideas appear to have sway. This would certainly be worth a more in-depth study.

Anwar Al Awlaki’s Global Reach

Filed under: Radicalisation, Terrorism

Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al Awlaki has becoming something of an international boogeyman, with traces and connections to him being found amongst an ever expanding array of terrorist plots around the world. According to the U.S., he has gone beyond being a nuisance preacher to being actively involved in terrorist plotting – his connections to underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab have earned him a place on the U.S. Predator hit-list.

But in many ways, more interesting than his apparently growing role as a preacher moving up the ladder to training individuals, is his ability to reach out through cyberspace to an ever-expanding and diverse community of people. Two recent cases highlight this in particular:

Paul “Bilal” Rockwood and his wife Nadia in Alaska, and on the other side of the world in Singapore, Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid.

Awlaki is the common thread between the two. According to court documents, Rockwood was a long-term follower, having converted in “late 2001 or early 2002” while he was living in Virginia. He rapidly became a “strict adherent to the violent Jihad-promoting ideology of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki….This included a personal conviction that it was his (Rockwood’s) religious responsibility to exact revenge by death on anyone who desecrated Islam.” While his timings appear to correlate with when Awlaki was also in Virginia it is unclear from information in the public domain whether they actually met.

Having been radicalized, over the next eight years Rockwood, who when he was arrested was a 35 year-old weatherman in the charmingly named King Salmon, Alaska, identified a list of possible targets through “visiting websites on the internet that professed to identify individuals, including American servicemen, who were alleged by the websites to have committed crimes of violence against Muslim civilians.” He further researched how to execute them “including discussing the use of mail bombs and the possibility of killing targets by gunshot to the head.” He narrowed his list down to 15 possible targets and planned on sharing this list, through his knowing wife, with a third person whom he believed shared his beliefs. From here it got to the Feds, certainly suggesting that this third party was not all that he or she seemed.

On the other hand, it seems highly unlikely that Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid ever had opportunity to meet the preacher. A 20-year old national serviceman in Singapore, he self-radicalized online and attempted to make contact with Awlaki through the net claiming to want to fight alongside him in Yemen. He was also in contact with a suspected Al Qaeda recruiter who urged him to go fight in Afghanistan and he produced at least one “self-made video glorifying martyrdom and justifying suicide bombing.” According to information released after his detainment under the Internal Security Act, his main influences appear to have been Anwar al-Awlaki and Australian-Lebanese former boxer Feiz Muhammed.

At around the same time as they detained Hamid, Singaporean police also place

Muhammad Anwar Jailani, 44, and Muhammad Thahir Shaik Dawood, 27 on two-year “restriction orders.” Jailani was apparently distributing Awlaki material, while Dawood went so far as to try to join the preacher in Yemen, though he was unable to connect with him and was instead rather disillusioned by what he did find there.

While not delving into the detail of the plots (which are not quite on the scale of 9/11), the running theme is Anwar al-Awlaki and his ability to provide some sort of indirect ideological guidance to people through the internet. While he may have had some contact with Rockwood early on, it still took Rockwood about five years before he started his research, and another three years before he moved into action. For the Singaporean’s, no contact appears to have taken place, but (like many others) the men appear to have sought out Awlaki as a guide to carrying out contemporary jihad. It would seem in many ways as though Awlaki, rather than Osama or even Abu Musab al Suri, is actually proving to be the globalized voice of jihad. His cry for personalized jihad in English appears to resonate amongst the global community of disenfranchised individuals across racial, national, and generational lines (I have not seen any evidence of gender yet, but women in jihad remains a marginal feature).

What is not clear if this is anything particularly new, or whether he is simply the latest in a long line of radical clerics whose charisma is able to draw people to him and it his ability to use the internet that has given him a global reach. Whatever the case, it is clear that his online presence is also what will guarantee him longevity beyond if the Predator’s do ever catch him.