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April 24, 2015

Adam Gadahn, American Al Qaeda Spokesman, Reported Dead

Adam GadahnOn Thursday, the White House announced that Adam Gadahn, an American spokesman for Al Qaeda, was killed in a January drone strike. Although less visible in recent years, Gadahn was at the forefront of creating English-language terrorist propaganda – an initiative that has evolved into a sophisticated recruitment and radicalization mechanism.

Gadahn’s death comes as English-language propaganda released by terrorist organizations is influencing an ever increasing number of Americans to join extremist organizations. As of this date, thirty-one people living in the U.S. have been implicated in terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism in 2015 alone, a significant increase from the total number of arrests in 2014 and in 2013.

Later American propagandists for Al Qaeda affiliates, such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, founders of Inspire magazine who were killed in a drone strike in 2011, have become more influential than Gadahn in extremist circles. And as online technology has advanced, groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have dramatically increased the reach and influence of English-language calls to violence.

Gadahn, however, was not only the first American to incite extremism on behalf of Al Qaeda, but presumably until his death remained the primary English-language spokesman for Al Qaeda’s Central organization.

Gadahn’s first propaganda piece for Al Qaeda was an audio translation of an Osama bin Laden speech. In 2004, he began to appear in videos using the nom de guerre Azzam Al-Amriki and to promote attacks against the U.S.

In the ensuing years, he released multiple videos that reflected his anti-Semitic and anti-Christian views and were marked by threats against America and its allies.

Gadahn also called for lone-wolf attacks. In a 2011 video, he stated, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms” and that listeners can “go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card.”  He concluded, “So what are you waiting for?”

Gadahn’s most recent video was released in May 2014. Like his previous statements, it featured calls for attacks against the U.S. as well as anti-Semitic rhetoric and concluded with clips of the Boston Marathon bomb­ing, fight­ing in Syria, and ter­ror­ism in Israel, includ­ing a brief video clip of Jews pray­ing at the West­ern Wall, Judaism’s holi­est site, fol­lowed by footage of an explosion.

Gadahn was also featured in an interview in the March 2013 issue of Inspire magazine, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s English-language propaganda magazine. In it, he called on his fellow propagandists to “make every effort to reach out to Mus­lims both through new media like Face­book and Twit­ter as well as the tra­di­tional broad­cast and print media.” Gadahn also used the interview to call for attacks against “Amer­ica and its NATO part­ners, par­tic­u­larly France and Britain.”

Gadahn was born in Oregon in 1978 and grew up in California. He converted to Islam as a teenager and allegedly grew radicalized shortly thereafter. In the late 1990s, Gadahn traveled to Pakistan and joined Al Qaeda.

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April 2, 2015

NY Arrests Put Spotlight on Female Islamic Extremists

Update — 4/6/15: Another woman, Keonna Thomas of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was charged on April 3, 2015 with providing material support to a terrorist organization by allegedly attempting to join ISIS.

Two Brooklyn women arrested today on charges of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction are the 11th and 12th U.S. women linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism since 2014. Women engag­ing with ter­ror­ist groups is not a new phe­nom­e­non, but their numbers have dramatically increased since 2014: ADL has documented 12 female U.S. residents linked to terrorism in the last 15 months – the same as the total number of women in the 11 years between 2002 and 2013.

A poem by Asia Siddiqui published in the extremist magazine Jihad Recollections

A poem by Asia Siddiqui in the extremist magazine Jihad Recollections

Noelle Velentzas, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, New York and Asia Siddiqui, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, New York and Velentzas’s former roommate, allegedly researched how to make explosive devices and purchased the materials necessary to do so. Although court documents do not indicate that they had chosen a target, they expressed a preference for attacking law enforcement and U.S. government and military facilities.

The two made clear that they were motivated by Islamic extremism. According to court documents, Velentzas praised the 9/11 attacks and repeatedly stated that her heroes are Osama bin Laden and his mentor, Abdullah Azzam.

Moreover, Velentzas and Siddiqui have an extensive history of engaging with radical extremism online. In 2006, according to court documents, Siddiqui “became close with Samir Khan,” who went on to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and, together with AQAP propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, founded Inspire magazine, the group’s primary English-language magazine. In 2009, Siddiqui wrote a poem that was published in Jihad Recollections, an earlier magazine that Khan produced.

Extremist magazines including Jihad Recollections and Inspire have actively encouraged submissions from readers in the hope that having their work published will lead the readers to become further entrenched in the extremist organization. Siddiqui herself allegedly expressed support for Mohamed Osman Mohamud, another American who was published in Jihad Recollections and who went on to attempt a domestic attack – in his case, the attempted bombing of the Portland, OR Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010.

Other Americans that have written for Jihad Recollections include Younes Abdullah Muhammad (aka Jesse Curtis Morton), a co-founder of now-defunct extremist group Revolution Muslim. Muhammad is currently in prison, having pleaded guilty to threatening the creators of South Park.

Siddiqui and Velentzas also appeared to have been inspired by other domestic attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing.

Court documents indicate that Siddiqui told an undercover informant “Velentzas has been obsessed with pressure cookers since the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013 and often makes comments about pressure cookers,” and Velentzas told the informant that “she had recently received a pressure cooker as a present, and joked about cooking something in the pressure cooker, then laughed and added, ‘food,’ – a reference to explosive materials.”

Image from an article on making car bombs in the  Spring 2014 issue of Inspire

Image from an article on making car bombs in the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire

Like the Tsarnaev brothers, who are accused of having perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing, Siddiqui and Velentzas attempted to learn how to make bombs from Inspire magazine. Referring to the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire that provided instructions for the construction and placement of car bombs, Velentzas allegedly stated that “Inspire magazine was useful…to learn how to ‘valet’ his/her car and how to cook ‘food.’” She regularly used the word “food” as a euphemism for explosives.

The two also allegedly watched ISIS propaganda videos online, including beheading and recruitment videos, and expressed affinity for ISIS. According to court documents, Velentzas stated that she wanted them to be referred to as “citizens of the Islamic State,” and “that attacks on ISIS were tantamount to attacks on her own state.”

Velentzas was also reportedly friends on Facebook with Tairod Pugh, a New Jersey man arrested in March for attempting to join ISIS.

Seventeen U.S. residents in total have been arrested on Islamic extremism motivated terror charges in 2015, 6 of whom were from New York State. If arrests continue at the current rate, it will reflect a marked increase of arrests over the last three years, corresponding to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its aggressive recruitment and propaganda campaigns.

Twenty-five U.S. residents in total were linked to Islamic extremism in 2014, and 14 in 2013, although significant numbers of individuals not identified are believed to have traveled abroad to join terrorist groups.

This morning’s arrest also marked the fourth instance of a domestic attack plot in 2015. In Jan­u­ary, Ohio res­i­dent Christo­pher Lee Cor­nell was arrested for his plot to attack the U.S. Capi­tol after fail­ing to con­nect with ISIS mem­bers abroad and in Feb­ru­ary, New York City res­i­dents Abdura­sul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhme­tov were arrested for attempt­ing to join ISIS and dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of a domes­tic attack if they were unable to do so, and in March, Hasan and Jonas Edmonds were arrested for allegedly attempting to join ISIS and plotting an attack against a military base.

Notably, there were no known domestic plots in 2014; the current increase may be related to an increase in ISIS propaganda encouraging such attacks.

Thirty-five U.S. residents have been publicly linked to or cited inspiration from ISIS since 2014.

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August 19, 2014

New AQAP Magazine Calls For Lone-Wolf Attacks Against U.S. And U.K.

aqap-aqsa-we-are-coming-inspire

Back cover of the AQAP publication, “Palestine: Betrayal of the Guilty Conscience”

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued a new English-language magazine on Twitter August 16. Titled “Palestine: Betrayal of the Guilty Conscience,” the publication uses the recent conflict in Gaza as an excuse to renew the group’s call for lone-wolf attacks in the U.S. and the U.K.

AQAP has regularly issued such calls for lone-wolf attacks in the past, including just a few days ago when it urged followers to attack the U.S. in retaliation for military assistance in Iraq.

The magazine, which reuses content from AQAP’s Inspire magazine, includes directions for building pressure cooker bombs and car bombs and suggests a new list of potential targets including Israeli, British and American owned companies, tourist resorts frequented by American, British and Israeli citizens, Las Vegas casinos and night clubs, Georgia Military College, the US Air Force Academy, General Atomics headquarters in San Diego, and Marks and Spencer stores in Britain.

For more information about this publication, see the ADL analysis “AQAP Exploits Gaza Conflict to Call for Lone-Wolf Attacks Against U.S.”

ADL has also written extensively about the  influence posed by such online English-language propaganda on would-be domestic extremists and the ensuing threat it poses to domestic security.

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