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Thursday, June 23, 2011

New "Jihad Joe" Cases Develop On Both Coasts, Melaku, Abdul-Latif And Mujahidh

The Justice Department revealed details of three new "Jihad Joe" suspects today in coast-to-coast court filings and press releases.

Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, 33, of Seattle, and Walli Mujahidh, 32, of Los Angeles, and Yonathan Melaku, 22, of Alexandria are all American citizens and all appear to fit the "individual jihad" terrorist model, acting independently and without contacting a formal terrorist network such as Al Qaeda.

Today's cases are notable as examples of radicalized American Muslims acting out with near total independence. Melaku in particular fits the lone wolf profile. In most of the previous "lone wolf" cases, foreign terrorists (or FBI agents posing as such) have played a significant role in motivating and training would-be attackers.

In both cases revealed today, firearms were an important part of the equation. There have been 17 deaths from clear cases of homegrown Islamic terrorism since September 11, and all of them were the result of gunfire.

In May, I wrote about this issue for the New York Daily News. Al Qaeda's English-language Inspire magazine has been focused on guns for some months, with articles encouraging lone shooters and tips on how to use and maintain assault rifles.

In June, American Al Qaeda member Adam Gadahn explicitly encouraged American Muslims to go buy weapons at gun shows and use them to shoot their fellow citizens, in an Al Qaeda video encouraging individual jihadists.

In the wake of bin Laden's death, federal authorities have closely monitored would-be individual jihadists who might carry out terrorist attacks without support from a formal terrorist network. Several American citizens have been arrested since May 1 for a variety of crimes related to Islamic extremism and terrorism.

For much more about American jihadists, check out my new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, on sale everywhere. Journalists interested in discussing this issue can contact me here. For reviews and additional information about the book, click here.


Arrested late last night in Seattle, Abdul-Latif is an African-American convert born Joseph Anthony Davis. Also arrested was Walli Mujahidh, born Frederick Domingue Jr., from Los Angeles.

Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh were charged with terrorism and firearms-related crimes today after they purchased machine guns and a grenade in an FBI undercover sting. The guns were rendered unusable before the sale.

The two men allegedly planned to use the weapons in an assault on a military processing facility in Seattle, after initially discussing an assault on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, on Puget Sound. Abdul-Latif, a felon previously convicted of robbery and assault, faces additional charges for illegal firearms possession.

A person in the community reported Abdul-Latif to Seattle police after being approached to help with the attack, according to a Justice Department press release and a criminal complaint filed today. The police brought the FBI into the case, and the person who made the tip became a paid informant. The informant also has previous felony convictions. In early June, the two men were allegedly recorded in video and audio surveillance discussing the planned assault.

The targeted building, where the military processes new enlistees, includes a daycare center and civilian personnel on the premises, although Abdul-Latify specified he wanted to kill military targets and not civilians. Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh discussed reconnaissance and practice runs for the attack. Abdul-Latif carried out the surveillance, noting the placement of security cameras and a guard, whom he said would be killed "first" in the attack, according to the criminal complaint.

Abdul-Latif said he wanted to die as a martyr in the attack, which he characterized as revenge for wrongdoing by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. He later introduced the informant to Mujahidh, according to the complaint. Abdul-Latif described his admiration for Osama Bin Laden (at this point it was after bin Laden's death), as well as his admiration for the 2009 Fort Hood killing spree by Army Major Nidal Hasan.

"We're not only trying to kill people, we're trying to send a message," Abdul-Latif said in one surveillance recording. "We're trying to get something that's gonna be on CNN and all over the world."

The two men are charged with conspiracy to kill federal government personnel and violations pertaining to the grenades and guns, charges carrying the potential of life in prison. They were scheduled to appear in court this afternoon in Seattle.

Although the investigation is still at an early stage, it was not clear whether Abdul-Latif or Mujahidh were directly influenced by Inspire magazine or the recent Adam Gadahn video, or whether their primary inspiration was, as described in the complaint, Nidal Hasan's shooting spree.


An Ethiopian-American and Marine reservist facing indictment for grand larceny in a separate case, Melaku was arrested last week after he was seen behaving suspiciously at Arlington National Cemetery after hours. According to an affidavit released today, Melaku was carrying a backpack containing four five-pound baggies of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer often employed in the construction of improvised explosives, such as the truck bomb used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Subsequent investigation revealed that Melaku was responsible for a series of shootings targeting military buildings last year. In at least one of those attacks, which only caused property damage, Melaku videotaped himself shouting "Allahu Akbar" while firing at the U.S. Marine Corps museum building. Forensics showed Melaku was carrying shell casings at the time of his arrest which are consistent with the other attacks.

A search revealed that Melaku's computer and at least one notebook contained extensive information on jihadist figures and procedures for building improvised explosives. Melaku had not been suspected in the attacks prior to his arrest last week.

The Defense Department initiated separation proceedings against Melaku on Tuesday.

Prior to 9/11, U.S. military personnel and military vets formed the backbone of the American jihadist movement, although that trend has significantly reversed in recent years.

However, while the overall trend has shifted toward a higher concentration of civilian jihadists, there are a number of examples of active and former military members who have been involved in jihadist terrorism, including Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Hasan Akbar, who killed two fellow soldiers while serving in Iraq in 2003. Abdul-Latif, arrested today, was also reportedly a military veteran who served in the Navy during the 1990s.


Hundreds of American citizens have been arrested in relation to jihadist terrorism over the last 30 years, with more than 180 of those cases taking place after September 11. Several significant arrests have taken place since the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, including:

  • Younus Abdullah Muhammad, the American co-founder of the radical Web site Revolution Muslim, was arrested in Morocco for extradition to the United States for his role in publicizing threats against the creators of "South Park" for an episode dealing with the controversy over depicting images of the Prophet Mohammed. Zach Chesser of Virginia was previously convicted of writing the threats and attempting to join the Al Shabab jihadist movement in Somalia.

  • Joseph Brice, a 20-year-old from Clarkston, Wash., was a skilled builder of improvised explosives who volunteered his services on jihadist online forums and eventually to an undercover FBI agent representing himself as a jihadist. Investigators are not ocnvinced Brice was a Muslim or ideologically committed to Islamic terrorist causes, but believe he may better fit the profile of a serial bomber. INTELWIRE will have more details about the Brice case later this week.

  • Three American citizens in Florida were arrested May 14 for raising money on behalf of Tehrik-e Taliban, the Pakistani group behind the attempted bombing of Times Square by American citizen Faisal Shahzad, includinjg Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, imam of the Miami Masjid; Hafiz Khan's son, Irfan Khan, 37, also of Miami, imam at the Jamaat Al-Mu’mineen Mosque in Margate, Fla.; and another son, Izhar Khan, 24, of North Lauderdale, Fla.


    In May, I spoke at George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute (video) about Jihad Joe. In response to a question about the threat picture going forward, I said the period after bin Laden's death would represent a key test of the "individual" or "leaderless" jihad concept championed by American jihadist ideologues such as Anwar Awlaki and Adam Gadahn.

    Despite the serious cases represented above, we have yet to see a numerically significant surge in actual or attempted attacks by lone wolves and individual jihadists. Melaku was actively pursuing individual jihad prior to bin Laden's death, and whatever Brice was up to, he was up to before bin Laden. The charges against Younus are also old. The Florida Taliban cell was active before bin Laden's death and at any rate does not qualify as a lone wolf operation.

    The lack of activity so far is extremely encouraging , although I don't think we're quite out of the woods yet. While lone wolves often act with minimal preparation, they do tend to prepare. And the June Al Qaeda video release I mentioned above represents one of the most serious investments to date by Al Qaeda Central in the concept of individual jihad. The video release has already sparked some alarming conversations on the jihadist Internet forums. History does not offer any clear examples of terrorist attacks being conceived on the forums and graduating to execution, but there's a first time for everything.

    For much more about the history of American jihadism and its current incarnation, check out my new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, on sale everywhere. Journalists interested in discussing this issue can contact me here. For reviews and additional information about the book, click here.

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    INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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