The Growing Danger from Radical Islamist Groups in the United States

Aug 01, 2010

homegrown terrorism is on the rise in the United States. During the last 15 months, there have been 23 cases of Americans and permanent U.S. residents—some 56 individuals in all—implicated in terrorist plots inspired or directed by al-Qa`ida and its affiliates.[1] This article argues that a significant reason behind this surge in incidents is the presence of Islamist groups openly and legally propagating extreme Islamist ideology in the United States.[2]

An emerging network of radical preachers, demagogues, bloggers, and activists are attempting to disseminate extremist ideas among Muslim youth in the United States. Largely excluded from the country’s mosques, they spread their message on the streets, outside the mosque, in small gatherings in private residences, on campuses and above all online, taking full advantage of new social media platforms to maximize their reach. They are a loose constellation of individuals, but have a clear center of gravity in two extremist groups that operate freely and openly in New York City.[3]

The groups in question—the Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS) and Revolution Muslim (RM), both affiliated with the British extremist organization al-Muhajiroun—are increasingly appearing in counterterrorism investigations.[4] In June 2010, two New Jersey men linked to the groups were arrested on their way to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, allegedly to fight with the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab.[5] In July, Virginia resident Zachary Chesser, a prolific RM blogger, was arrested for allegedly planning to do the same.[6] Also in July it emerged that Samir Khan, who is from North Carolina and has close links to both groups, was suspected of being the driving force behind a new online English-language terrorism magazine called Inspire.[7] In August, yet another link emerged when Shaker Masri, a Chicago resident who claimed to know Chesser, was arrested on his way to allegedly fight jihad in Somalia.[8]

Although the leaders of ITS and RM are not suspected of operational involvement in any terrorist plots, a significant correlation has emerged between participation in the activities of these groups and U.S. homegrown terrorism. Seven of the 23 terrorism cases involving U.S. citizens and residents to emerge in the last 15 months have seen links between the suspects and these radical New York groups, suggesting that ITS and RM have contributed to Americans being radicalized toward violence. No such correlation exists for any other Islamist group openly operating in the United States. This article will chart how the New York groups emerged, briefly profile their leaders, and explain the danger they now pose.

Catching the British Disease

According to U.S. counterterrorism officials, growing numbers of Americans are espousing violent Islamist views.[9] The United States, some analysts believe, is beginning to repeat the experience of the United Kingdom a decade ago.[10] In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a group of radical Islamist clerics—including the quartet of Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, Syrian preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed, Jordanian firebrand Abu Qatada, and Jamaican extremist Abdullah al-Faisal—helped radicalize a generation of British youth, creating the largest concentration of pro-al-Qa`ida extremists in the West.[11]

For a variety of factors, such as better integration into mainstream society, American Muslims have been more resistant to such messages.[12] Yet recent polling data and the growing number of terrorism cases in the United States suggest that not all are immune.[13] As in every Western country, individuals who feel alienated and frustrated are more susceptible to radical ideologies. Even though those alienated constitute a smaller minority in the United States than in some European countries, their numbers are not insignificant in a population of more than two million American Muslims.[14] ITS and RM appear to be aggressively targeting this disaffected demographic, contributing toward growing radicalization in the United States.[15]

Most followers of these groups are so-called second and third generation Muslims or converts.[16] As in Europe, some of the children of Muslim immigrants have struggled for identity and purpose in the United States, making them vulnerable to radical preachers. The same has applied with new converts because of their natural zeal and lack of grounding in the tenets of their religion.[17] The nature of those following groups such as ITS and RM was reflected in a 2007 Pew Research Center poll that found American-born Muslims twice as likely to support al-Qa`ida than those foreign-born. [18]According to Pew, seven percent of U.S.-born Muslims held a “favorable” view of al-Qa`ida in 2007, compared with only three percent of foreign-born Muslims.

Al-Muhajiroun America

If the United States is catching this British disease, UK radical preachers helped spread the contagion. In the United Kingdom, one group in particular—al-Muhajiroun, a pro-al-Qa`ida group founded by Omar Bakri Mohammed in 1996—stood out because of the size of its following.[19] In crowded meeting halls across the United Kingdom, Omar Bakri Mohammed and his deputy Anjem Choudary found a formula for attracting hundreds of followers: speak in English with charisma about how the United States and its allies were at war with Islam.[20]

It was an approach the group successfully transplanted to the United States. Until the late 1990s, most pockets of extremism in the United States had been associated with Arabic-speaking clerics such as `Umar `Abd al-Rahman, the “blind shaykh,” who in the early 1990s briefly took over the al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn. The year before 9/11, Choudary traveled to New York and the Midwest to build up al-Muhajiroun’s fledgling American wing.[21] In the years that followed, al-Muhajiroun established a significant presence in the New York area, especially in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, helping to make al-Qa`ida’s ideology accessible to second generation Muslims and converts who could not speak languages such as Arabic and Urdu. “Ten years ago we were in the early stages, there were not many ideological movements at the time in America as you find in Britain,” said Choudary. “They weren’t really talking about foreign policy, they weren’t really coming out openly, publicly and engaging in ideological and political struggle, whereas I think they are now.”[22]

Al-Muhajiroun’s New York members held demonstrations and organized speaking events.[23] For some, however, mere protest was not enough. In the United Kingdom and the United States, al-Muhajiroun followers became wrapped up in counterterrorism investigations. Two of its active members in New York—Syed Hashmi and Mohammed Junaid Babar—were subsequently convicted of aiding al-Qa`ida.[24] After his arrest in 2004, Babar admitted to having met with al-Qa`ida commanders along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and to having organized terrorist training, sponsored by al-Qa`ida, for a group of one-time British al-Muhajiroun followers in Pakistan.[25] He was also connected to a number of British militants spread across Pakistan, including a cluster of al-Muhajiroun followers in Lahore, who helped facilitate travel to the region for aspiring jihadists from the United Kingdom.[26] Two British suicide bombers who attacked a Tel Aviv nightclub in April 2003 were also followers of the group.[27]

The Islamic Thinkers Society

In August 2004, al-Muhajiroun followers in New York launched a new organization called the Islamic Thinkers Society. [28]After Bakri Mohammed temporarily instructed followers to cease using the name al-Muhajiroun in 2004,[29] ITS became the main standard bearer for the group’s ideology in the United States.[30]

Although ITS claims on their website that “our struggle is always intellectual & political non-violent means,” counterterrorism officials have taken a more sanguine view. “In a sense they are almost bug lights for aspiring jihadists,” New York Police Department (NYPD) Director of Intelligence Analysis Mitch Silber told CNN in an interview earlier this year. “They’ve got an anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-U.S., pro Al Qaeda message.”[31] While the group has few full-time members, and its rallies are sometimes sparsely attended, its YouTube channel and Facebook page have around 200 subscribers each. The number of people viewing these sites is likely significantly larger since many presumably browse the content anonymously.[32]

Unlike their counterparts in the United Kingdom, most of the leaders of ITS have been careful not to reveal their real names, often using aliases in interviews.[33] Yet one figure within the group—Yousef al-Khattab, a Jewish convert to Islam from New Jersey—built up a considerable public profile. Al-Khattab converted to Islam in 1999 while living in an Israeli settlement in Palestine after becoming disillusioned with Orthodox Jewish teachings.[34] Al-Khattab, according to his own account, moved back to the United States from the Middle East in 2006 and thereafter split his time between Morocco, where his wife and children lived, and New York City.[35] According to U.S. counterterrorism officials, by 2007 al-Khattab had established himself as the front man of ITS.[36]

A number of individuals in his U.S. circle were subsequently implicated in terrorism cases. By al-Khattab’s own account, he struck friendships with two Americans who were later charged with terrorism offenses. One was Tarek Mehanna, a Boston resident charged in 2009 with plotting to blow up shopping malls in the United States,[37] and the other was Mehanna’s associate Daniel Maldonado, a Texas resident who was convicted in 2007 of training with a Somali militant group.[38] Al-Khattab also met with Bryant Neal Vinas, a Long Island Catholic convert to Islam, shortly before Vinas left the United States in September 2007 to wage jihad against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.[39] Vinas subsequently joined al-Qa`ida and helped the terrorist group plot an attack against the Long Island Railroad in New York.[40] Al-Khattab has stated that he had no idea of Vinas’ plans.[41] In the years before setting off for jihad, Vinas associated with ITS circles in New York City, attending several meetings held by the group; counterterrorism officials say this contributed to his radicalization.[42] Yet at a certain point, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials, Vinas became frustrated that the group was “all talk and no action,” indicating that the leadership of the ITS stopped short of directly calling on followers to fight jihad.[43] He was far from the only example of an individual following such a trajectory, say those officials.[44]

Despite his frustrations, it was within his circle of friends at ITS that Vinas found the connections needed to join up with militants in Pakistan. Two of his friends within the ITS in New York had advance knowledge of his plans, according to officials.[45] One of them, Ahmer Qayyum, coordinated his own travel plans with Vinas and arrived shortly after him in Lahore. Once there, Qayyum helped Vinas connect with jihadists targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to counterterrorism officials.[46]

Revolution Muslim

In 2008, Yousef al-Khattab co-founded RM with Younes Abdullah Muhammad, a convert and one-time member of ITS with a degree in international affairs from Columbia University.[47] RM was more provocative and extreme than ITS, delighting in confronting mainstream Muslims outside mosques[48] and courting controversy in the national media.[49] While the ITS propagates the ideology of Omar Bakri Mohammed, the spiritual guide of RM is Jamaican cleric Abdullah al-Faisal, many of whose speeches are posted on the RM YouTube channel.[50] RM has also endorsed and posted many of the writings of American-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-`Awlaqi on its site.

Like the ITS, the number of fully committed RM members is small, perhaps consisting of a dozen regulars who consistently show up to events. Most of RM’s activities are conducted online, taking full advantage of the growing power of social media. The group maintains a website and blog that they claim receives more than 1,500 hits a day, mostly from Americans.[51] Additionally, they hold regular question-and-answer sessions with followers over the interactive online communication site PalTalk. They also operate a YouTube channel with almost 1,000 subscribers, on which they post videos and interact online with followers. Many subscribers maintain their own elaborate YouTube channels, creating an interlocking online universe of radical sites. According to terrorism expert Marc Sageman, a former scholar in residence at the NYPD, the interactive nature of such sites is a more important driver of radicalization than just watching jihadist videos: “It’s really discussing their [the videos] significance with your friends, that in a sense drives the point home, as opposed to just watching them.”[52] One of the followers of RM’s YouTube channel was a recent convert to Islam from Pennsylvania, Colleen LaRose, who subscribed to the channel under the avatar “Jihad Jane.”[53] In March 2010, LaRose was charged with plotting to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist due to the latter’s depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.[54]

In November 2009, al-Khattab left the United States for Morocco, and in January 2010 al-Khattab announced that he had quit RM.[55] In an interview with the author, he complained that Younes Muhammad was taking the group in a more radical direction than had been the case when he was leading it.[56] “RM at that time was NOT Salafi Jihadi and that was not the platform I wanted,” al-Khattab subsequently claimed in an online posting.[57] Younes Muhammad now leads the group.

Links to Recent Terrorism Cases

In March 2009, ITS and RM participated in an anti-war rally in front of the White House. Among their ranks were two individuals who would soon be arrested and charged with planning to join the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab. One was Mohammed Alessa, a New Jersey resident who together with associate Carlos Almonte was arrested on his way to JFK airport in June 2010. According to counterterrorism officials, during the previous two years Alessa and Almonte had attended a number of rallies organized by ITS and RM.[58] The other was Zachary Chesser, a Virginia resident who converted to Islam in 2008, quickly became radicalized, and took an increasingly lead role in the online activities of RM.[59] A few weeks after the rally in Washington, Chesser posted a warning that the creators of the South Park television show risked being assassinated for their portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit, a warning that was widely viewed as a threat. In July, Chesser was arrested after he revealed to an FBI agent his intention to fight in Somalia.[60]

Chesser’s arrest prompted an extraordinary online clash between RM’s two founders. In a series of postings on an online Islamic forum in late July, al-Khattab appeared to imply that his former colleague Younes Abdullah Muhammad had encouraged Chesser to leave to fight jihad.[61] “The purpose [of my post] was to clearly state that Muslim brothers should stay away from my former group and any group that shares the same theology,” al-Khattab stated. “I would retire and go on with your life Younus, leave the fatawa and life planning to the Uulemah [sic] before you destroy yourself and others.”[62] In a response on the same forum, Younes Abdullah Muhammad lashed out against his former friend. “Essentially you are trying to play a role in my arrest as an incitor [sic],” Muhammad said. “I emailed you and explained that you had no evidence that I have ever incited or told people to commit acts of violence.”[63] Muhammad claimed that Chesser had actually grown frustrated with the relative moderation of the group’s platform:

Truth be told, I had many conversations with Abu Talha [Chesser] about the platform for spreading Islam. He felt that some of what I was saying was passive to a degree and moved on. I have not been in contact with him for several months and he has not been participating on RM since the South Park Affair, yet you insinuate that I am recorded inciting the brother.[64]

Another American linked to ITS and RM implicated in terrorism this summer was Samir Khan, a radical blogger previously resident in North Carolina but now believed to be in Yemen. In July 2010, it emerged that he was the suspected driving force behind Inspire magazine, a new online publication by al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula that included do-it-yourself bomb-making instructions, threats against U.S. citizens and a clarion call for volunteers for jihad.[65] According to counterterrorism officials, Khan first became radicalized while he was living in New York, during which time he attended several ITS meetings.[66] Khan, according to the officials, also had links to the leaders of RM.[67] Illustrating the web of links between radical extremists across the United States, in September 2009 Khan introduced Zachary Chesser as a new contributor to Jihad Recollections, one of the blogs he authored in North Carolina.[68]

In early August 2010, U.S. authorities charged yet another American who had links to RM with terrorism offenses. Shaker Masri, a Chicago resident who claimed to be an associate of RM blogger Chesser, was arrested as he allegedly prepared to leave the United States to fight jihad with the al-Shabab terrorist organization in Somalia. Masri allegedly told an undercover FBI informant that he wished to become a suicide bomber. According to the complaint against him, Masri told the informant that he personally knew Chesser, but would not repeat the mistake that he thought led to Chesser’s arrest—communicating directly with al-Shabab.[69]

Growing Dangers

The ITS and RM are still active on New York streets. In April 2010, ITS held a protest rally against Israeli actions in Palestine outside the Israeli Consulate in New York. After the rally, the group’s spokesman, Abu Mujaddid, told the author that they plan to step up their activities in New York and were successfully recruiting new followers. Mujaddid refused to provide his real name.[70]

In recent months, RM’s website has featured a prominent link to the “Authentic Tawheed” room on PalTalk on its homepage. The channel, administered from Jamaica by Abdullah al-Faisal, contains regular talks from a variety of English-speaking radical preachers. On July 31, the channel organized a special “global online conference” entitled “Take Over Washington,” featuring Abdullah al-Faisal, Omar Bakri Mohammed, Anjem Choudary, and Younes Abdullah Muhammad. The event was directed in particular to Muslims living in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. In his address, Bakri Mohammed urged listeners to resist the “Crusaders” led by the United States “verbally, financially or physically if you can.”[71]

How dangerous are ITS and RM? While the majority of those involved in the groups are not implicated in terrorist activity, the growing tally of terrorism cases linked to them should raise concern. Radical-leaning young American Muslims who become followers of such groups—either online or in person—find an echo chamber for their views and a powerful sense of shared community and purpose. Yet because of strong freedom of speech protections in the United States, there is little that counterterrorism officials can do about such groups if they limit their activities to proselytizing.[72] “As much as the Islamic Thinkers Society might put out an extremist message, it seems they go right up to the line of the first amendment, for the most part they, themselves as a group aren’t acting,” said Mitch Silber, the director of intelligence analysis at the NYPD.

Charismatic radical preachers such as Younes Abdullah Muhammad may not explicitly encourage individuals to fight jihad, but they whip up anger among followers by portraying the United States as engaged in a murderous war against Muslims. Counterterrorism experts believe that such rhetoric makes groups such as ITS and RM dangerous. According to Sageman, “Even if they do not have the connections to help [young radicals] go further, they articulate the glory of fighting jihad, the glory of doing something, of being active and this very much inspires young people.”[73]

The extent to which radical groups operating in the United States have connections to militant groups overseas is of crucial concern to U.S. counterterrorism officials. Officials do not believe a facilitation network has emerged in the United States for aspiring jihadists seeking to fight or train overseas on anything like the scale of the United Kingdom. There is concern, however, that a recruiting bridge may develop between American radicals who have joined jihadist groups overseas, such as North Carolina blogger Samir Khan, and their former radical circle in the United States.[74]

U.S. counterterrorism officials hope they can prevent the American equivalent of the “British Jihadi Network” from emerging during the next several years.[75] Yet U.S. officials are under no illusions that trends seen in the United Kingdom are crossing the Atlantic. Although groups such as ITS and RM have fewer full-fledged members than their British equivalents, new social media platforms are allowing them to spread their message more widely than would have been possible a decade ago. According to Choudary, the deputy leader of the UK radical group al-Muhajiroun, groups such as his in the United States are only “five or ten years behind in terms of the struggle they are engaging in.”[76]

Paul Cruickshank is an alumni fellow at New York University’s Center on Law and Security and a terrorism consultant for CNN. He recently produced the CNN documentary “American Al Qaeda.”

[1] This tally by the author includes all public announcements between May 15, 2009 and August 15, 2010 of terrorism charges filed in the United States or overseas against U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It also includes the case of Samir Khan, a North Carolina resident, who is suspected of having linked up with al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen in October 2009. Khan has not been charged.

[2] Groups such as ITS and RM that openly promote a radical ideology are of course just one of the concerns of counterterrorism officials tackling homegrown extremism. Many of those charged with terrorist activity in the United States have stayed clear of groups such as RM and ITS to keep themselves off the radar screens of counterterrorism agencies. Such “off-the grid” radicals are the ones of most concern to U.S. counterterrorism officials. Young Americans are being exposed to radical messages in a variety of ways. Some have swapped online messages with radical clerics in the Middle East, such as Anwar al-`Awlaqi. Many have accessed radical propaganda directly from a wide variety of anonymously-run pro-al-Qa`ida websites. Much of it is more extreme than any of the postings on the ITS or RM sites. Yet the fact that ITS and RM have proselytized openly has arguably given them more power and reach than those doing so anonymously. Those interacting on social media sites presumably like to know with whom they are talking.

[3] This picture is drawn from personal interviews with U.S. counterterrorism officials between 2009-2010, the author’s own investigative reporting, and personal interviews with leading figures within ITS and RM.

[4] Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “N.J. Suspects Attended Protests Organized by Radical Islamic Group,” CNN, June 11, 2010.

[5] Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Arrested Men Attended Protests Organized by Radical Islamic Group,” CNN, June 12, 2010.

[6] U.S.A. v. Zachary Adam Chesser, “Criminal Complaint,” Eastern District of Virginia, 2010; Personal interview, U.S. counterterrorism official, July 2010.

[7] Paul Cruickshank, “US Citizen Believed to be Writing for Pro Al Qaeda Website Source Says,” CNN, July 18, 2010.

[8] U.S.A. v. Shaker Masri, “Criminal Complaint,” Northern District of Illinois, 2010.

[9] For example, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated in a December 2009 interview that violent Islamist extremism was assumed to be a growing phenomenon in the United States. See “Napolitano: Homegrown Threats a Reality,” CNN, May 14, 2010. Additionally, in a February 2010 interview, Mitch Silber, the NYPD’s director of intelligence analysis, stated, “Radicalization is definitely on the rise in the United States.” See Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson, “Analysis: The Spread of U.S. Homegrown Terrorism,” CNN, May 13, 2010. That same month U.S. intelligence agencies said that they were concerned that inspirational supporters of al-Qa`ida, such as Anwar al-`Awlaqi, “will increasingly motivate individuals toward violent extremism [in the United States].” See Dennis C. Blair, “Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” February 2, 2010.

[10]  Personal interview, U.S. counterterrorism official, July 2010.

[11] The differing experiences of Britain and France illustrate the key role played by on-the-ground radicalizers in the emergence of radicalism. While there is arguably a higher level of socio-economic frustration and political-cultural alienation among French Muslims than their UK counterparts, there are lower levels of radicalism in France than across the English Channel, according to European counterterrorism officials. The reason is that there have been fewer radical clerics present to take advantage of such sentiment in France because of a long-standing zero-tolerance attitude by French authorities to such preachers because of the threat of attacks from Algerian terrorist groups. Until the July 7, 2005 London bombings, the United Kingdom by contrast allowed radical preachers to operate relatively freely on their soil, judging that they did not pose a threat to British national security. See Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, “Clerical Error: The Dangers of Tolerance,” The New Republic, August 8, 2005.

[12] These factors include the high skill level of many Muslim immigrants, their relative economic success, the peaceful form of Islam being preached in nearly all American mosques and the melting pot culture of the United States.

[13] “Muslim Americans,” Pew Research Center, May 22, 2007. See also Paul Cruickshank, “The Domestic Terror Threat,” Newsweek, November 20, 2009.

[14] There are an estimated 2.4 million Muslims living in the United Kingdom (3.9% of the total population). See Richard Kerbaj, “Muslim Population ‘Rising Ten Times Faster than Rest of Society,’” Times, January 30, 2009. While there are no official statistics, the Pew organization estimates that there are 2.35 million Muslims living in the United States (0.8% of the total population). See “Muslim Americans.” Some studies estimate the U.S. Muslim population to be as high as seven million.

[15] This observation is based on the author’s own investigations into the activities of ITS and RM, biographical data assembled on their followers, and interviews with U.S. counterterrorism officials. Such groups can provide validation for individuals who have become self-radicalized by exposure to jihadist websites.

[16] According to the NYPD, “the Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS) is an organization primarily composed of 2nd and 3rd generation college-age Americans of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent.” See Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” NYPD Intelligence Division, 2007. The author has also observed a significant number of converts at rallies organized by ITS and RM, an organization whose two founders were themselves converts.

[17] For example, John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban,” became radicalized soon after converting to Islam. Others that followed the same trajectory include Richard Reid, the so-called “Shoe Bomber,” London subway bomber Germaine Lindsay,  American al-Qa`ida operative Bryant Neal Vinas, and American al-Qa`ida spokesman Adam Gadahn.

[18] “Muslim Americans.”

[19] Al-Muhajiroun, which has operated under a variety of different names in the United Kingdom such as al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, most recently operated under the name Islam4UK before reverting back to its original name after Islam4UK was banned in January under counterterrorism laws. For background on al-Muhajiroun, see Dominic Casciani, “Profile: Islam4UK,” BBC, January 5, 2010.

[20] Al-Muhajiroun instructs followers to live their lives according to fundamentalist Salafist principles, completely rejecting Western values. It has also openly championed the al-Qa`ida terrorist organization and Usama bin Ladin, depicting them as waging a legitimate jihad against an oppressive West. The organization, however, has constructed a novel theological construct to oppose attacks by Western Muslims inside their own countries. They argue that citizenship creates a “covenant of security” preventing such attacks. Several plots in the United Kingdom, however, have been linked to one-time members of al-Muhajiroun.

[21] The radical Islamist group Hizb al-Tahrir had by the end of the 1990s also established a presence in the United States, and today has a significant following, particularly in the Midwest, New York, and California. Most observers regard it as significantly less radical than al-Muhajiroun. Hizb al-Tahrir has stated it opposes al-Qa`ida terrorism and violence at this time. See personal interview, senior Hizb al-Tahrir representative, London, January 2005. See also Madeleine Gruen, “Hizb ut Tahrir’s Activities in the United States,” Terrorism Monitor 5:16 (2007).

[22] Nic Robertson, CNN interview with Anjem Choudary, London, November 2009. Segments of the interview aired on “Anderson Cooper 360” on November 11, 2009 as part of a series of reports on homegrown terrorism this author helped set up and produce.

[23] In May 2002, for example, al-Muhajiroun organized a meeting at Brooklyn College in which they showed videos of atrocities they claimed had been committed against Muslims around the world. “America is directly involved in exterminating Muslims,” one of its members, Syed Hashmi, subsequently convicted of aiding al-Qa`ida, declared at the meeting. “America is the biggest terrorist threat in the world.” For details, see Michael Elliott et al., “Al Qaeda Now,” Time Magazine, June 3, 2002.

[24] Anemona Hartocollis and Al Baker, “U.S. Citizen is Accused of Helping Al Qaeda,” New York Times, June 8, 2006.

[25] In April 2010, Syed Hashmi pleaded guilty in a New York court to aiding al-Qa`ida. In the summer of 2006, he was arrested boarding a flight at Heathrow Airport transporting all-weather equipment for the terrorist group in Pakistan and was subsequently extradited to the United States. See Kiran Khalid, “U.S. Citizen Gets 15 Year Sentence for Helping Al Qaeda,” CNN, June 10, 2010. A second New York al-Muhajiroun follower—Mohammed Junaid Babar—pleaded guilty in 2004 to providing material support to al-Qa`ida. The previous year Babar had organized a training camp for a group of young British militants in Pakistan plotting to blow up targets in London with fertilizer bombs. The terrorist cell, whose plans were foiled by the British police investigation “Operation Crevice,” were themselves one-time followers of al-Muhajiroun in the United Kingdom. See Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, “Al Qaeda on Thames,” Washington Post, April 30, 2007. Al-Muhajiroun’s deputy leader Choudary knew both Hashmi and Babar, getting to know the latter on one of his trips to New York. This is based on personal interview, Anjem Choudary, October 2009.

[26] See Paul Cruickshank, “The Militant Pipeline between the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Region and the West,” New America Foundation, February 2010; Dominic Casciani, “Path to Extremism: How it Started,” BBC, May 3, 2007.

[27] Bergen and Cruickshank, “Clerical Error: The Dangers of Tolerance.”

[28] Personal interview, U.S. counterterrorism official, September 2009. In its first posting on its website, the group announced: “Our da’wah (preaching) activities takes place mainly in the streets of Times Square and Jackson Heights, NYC where we give out leaflets and hold posters/banners covering all types of issues relating from spiritual, social, economical, to political issues. Our objective is to bring back the apparatus that was destroyed in 1924 i.e. Khilafah [caliphate].”

[29] Bakri Mohammed claimed to be disbanding al-Muhajiroun because the existence of specific groups could create factionalism at a time when all Muslims needed to resist “evil forces” in the West. See Faisal al-Yafai, “Monitored Islamist Group Shuts Down,” Guardian, October 13, 2004.

[30] The ITS praised al-Muhajiroun leader Omar Bakri Mohammed in postings on its website. Al-Muhajiroun deputy leader Anjem Choudary stated that the two groups are closely affiliated. See personal interview, Anjem Choudary, October 2009.

[31] Cruickshank and Robertson, “Analysis: The Spread of U.S. Homegrown Terrorism.”

[32] As of August 2010, the ITS YouTube site had 178 subscribers and its Facebook page had 232 members.

[33] In May 2010, two of the “administrators” listed on ITS’ Facebook page were Abu Mujaddid and Muhammed Nussrah. Mujaddid is the name adopted by the group’s spokesman, who the author interviewed for CNN after an ITS protest outside the Israeli Consulate in New York in April 2010, at which Mujaddid was the main speaker. See Cruickshank and Robertson, “Analysis: The Spread of U.S. Homegrown Terrorism.” In press reports, Nussrah has been identified as a Brooklyn resident, but it is unclear if that is his real name. See Tarek el-Tablawy, “Woman Leads Muslim Prayer Service in NYC,” Associated Press, March 19, 2005. For a report on the early activity of ITS, see Andrea Elliott, “Queens Muslim Group Says it Opposes Violence, and America,” New York Times, June 22, 2005.

[34] Yousef al-Khattab, “The Journey of the Al Khattab Family to Islam,” www.yousefalkhattab.com, undated.

[35] Ibid.

[36]  Cruickshank and Lister, “Arrested Men Attended Protests Organized by Radical Islamic Group.”

[37] Ibid. Mehanna has not entered a plea.

[38] Drew Griffin, Kathleen Johnston, and Paul Cruickshank, “Peaceful Preaching Inside, Violent Message Outside a New York Mosque,” CNN, November 5, 2009. Maldonado had joined forces with Alabama resident Omar Hammami in trying to connect with jihadists in Somalia. Hammami is believed to be still at large fighting with the group in Somalia. See Andrea Elliott, “The Jihadist Next Door,” New York Times, January 27, 2010.

[39]  Michael Powell, “U.S. Recruit Reveals How Qaeda Trains Foreigners,” New York Times, July 23, 2009.

[40]  Ibid.

[41] Paul Cruickshank, Nic Robertson and Ken Shiffman, “The Radicalization of an All-American Kid,” CNN, May 15, 2010.

[42] Ibid.; “American Al Qaeda,” CNN documentary, May 15, 2010.

[43] Ibid.

[44] In an interview with CNN for the CNN documentary “American Al Qaeda,” NYPD Director of Intelligence Analysis Mitch Silber stated “the pattern that we see is a lot of these individuals that are attracted to the bug light at a certain point realize that these groups are just talkers. They’re not going to do more than just demonstrate. They’re not going to do more than just put out extreme statements. And those who are serious about the jihad will leave these groups.” See also Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Alleged American Jihadists: Connecting the Dots,” CNN, August 2, 2010.

[45] Cruickshank, Robertson and Shiffman.

[46]  Ibid.

[47] Personal interviews, Yousef al-Khattab and Younes Abdullah Muhammad, New York, October 2009.

[48] On many Fridays, members of the group would stand outside mosques after prayers and chastise Muslims for not supporting jihad. “We call you to reject the enemies of Islam and to rally around those who are waging jihad…many of you stay silent sitting here, enjoying the life and the pleasures of this world while your brothers and sisters are slaughtered and attacked in Muslim lands,” Younes Abdullah Muhammad exclaimed outside a Manhattan mosque in September 2009.

[49] In an interview with CNN in October 2009, al-Khattab and Muhammad made no secret of their radical views. “I love him [Usama bin Ladin] like I can’t begin to tell you,” said al-Khattab, while Younes Abdullah Muhammad stated that U.S. foreign policy justified attacks on Americans, including 9/11. They denied they encouraged individuals to travel to fight jihad overseas and stated they opposed attacks on U.S. soil. Within hours of the Fort Hood shooting in November 2009, however, a posting appeared under al-Khattab’s name on the RM website labeling shooter Nidal Hassan “an Officer and a Gentleman.” See the documentary “Homegrown Terror,” CNN, December 12, 2009, which the author part-produced. Al-Khattab later stated on his blog that he supported that attack because it was a military target.  See Yousef al-Khattab, “Why I left Revolution Muslim,” www.yousefalkhattab.com, June 13, 2010.

[50] Al-Faisal, one of the UK clerics who helped radicalize a generation of British youth, was banned from the United Kingdom after the July 7, 2005 London bombings. Al-Faisal’s sermons had radicalized Germaine Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers in the attack. RM leader Muhammad claims he is a close acquaintance of al-Faisal’s. See “Profile: Germaine Lindsay,” BBC, May 11, 2006.

[51] Personal interviews, Yousef al-Khattab and Younes Abdullah Muhammad, New York, October 2009.

[52] Nic Robertson, “Terrorists Use YouTube,” CNN, December 22, 2009. The report was produced by this author.

[53]  Cruickshank and Lister, “Arrested Men Attended Protests Organized by Radical Islamic Group.”

[54[ Ibid.

[55] With Muhammad away on a trip to Saudi Arabia, al-Khattab left a young protégé, Abdullah as Sayf Jones, a convert to Islam from Florida, in charge of the group. This did not please Muhammad who, according to al-Khattab’s account, took back control of the group on his return and forced Jones out. See Al-Khattab, “Why I Left Revolution Muslim.” See also “Backgrounder: Revolution Muslim – Abdullah as Sayf Jones,” Anti-Defamation League, June 30, 2010.

[56]  Personal interview, Yousef al-Khattab, February 2010.

[57] Al-Khattab posted this as part of an exchange on the Islamic Awakening Forum between July 23-July 25, 2010 under the heading “Feds Arrest Man Behind ‘South Park’ Threats.”

[58] Personal interviews, U.S. counterterrorism officials, July 2010.

[59] U.S.A. v. Zachary Adam Chesser; Personal interview, U.S. counterterrorism official, July 2010.

[60] Cruickshank and Lister, “Alleged American Jihadists: Connecting the Dots.”

[61] The exchange took place on the Islamic Awakening Forum between July 23-July 25, 2010 under the heading “Feds Arrest Man Behind ‘South Park’ Threats.”

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Cruickshank, “US Citizen Believed to be Writing for Pro Al Qaeda Website Source Says.”

[66] Cruickshank and Lister, “Alleged American Jihadists: Connecting the Dots.”

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Apart from that conversation, the FBI stated that it had “no other knowledge, at this time, of any direct contact between Chesser and Masri.” Masri was charged with trying to provide material support to two terrorist organizations—al-Qa`ida and al-Shabab—and with another charge related to weapons of mass destruction, according to the criminal complaint. See U.S.A. v. Shaker Masri.

[70] Cruickshank and Robertson, “Analysis: The Spread of U.S. Homegrown Terrorism.”

[71] “Take Over Washington Conference,” Authentic Tawheed Room PalTalk, July 31, 2010.

[72] Anjem Choudary told this author in October 2009 that his radical comrades in the United States could say comments that he could not in the United Kingdom because of new laws passed in the United Kingdom in 2006 against glorifying terrorism.

[73]  Cruickshank and Lister, “Arrested Men Attended Protests Organized by Radical Islamic Group.”

[74] Personal interviews, U.S. counterterrorism officials, 2009-2010.

[75] British authorities in 2007 stated that they were monitoring around 2,000 individuals who posed a risk to national security and 30 active plots. See Frank Gardner, “MI5 Watch 2000 Terror Suspects,” BBC, May 2, 2007. The number has not dropped appreciably since.

[76] Nic Robertson, CNN interview with Anjem Choudary, London, November 2009. Segments of the interview aired on “Anderson Cooper 360” on November 11, 2009 as part of a series of reports on homegrown terrorism this author helped set up and produce.