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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Letter From British Jihadi Describes Contacts With Anwar Awlaki

A letter from convicted British homegrown jihadi Rajib Karim, posted on extremist forums this week, sheds light on the methods of American Al Qaeda figure Anwar Awlaki.

Rajib Karim was an employee of British Airways, who in Marc h was sentenced to 30 years in prison for providing information about airline security for use in a terrorist plot to Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric who today works with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from his family's homeland of Yemen.

It's important to note that Karim's account contradicts evidence submitted at trial and may obviously be colored by self-interest. However the account was written after his sentencing and he admits to being guilty of several of the counts brought against him.

According to Karim, he initially sought out Awlaki not for terrorist purposes but because he wanted to emigrate to a region in Yemen where he could live under a strict interpretation of shariah law. Awlaki's audio lectures in English frequently exhort Muslims living in the West to make such a move, known as making hijrah.

But Awlaki did not help Karim follow Awlaki's own advice, according to the letter.

According to Karim, he chose to contact Awlaki because "I needed someone whom I could trust and who would be a man of influence in that region. ... He was a well respected scholar, he was from an influential tribe." Additionally, Karim does not speak Arabic and hoped Awlaki, who is fluent in both Arabic and English, could help him get settled.

Karim wrote to Awlaki, outlining his wish to emigrate and mentioning that he worked for British Airways. On hearing Karim's profession, Awalki's wrote back immediately.

"[Hearing] that you intend on making hijrah, I immediately wanted to contact you to tell you that my advice to you was to remain in your current position," Awlaki wrote.

Karim, by his own account, did not want to remain in the U.K. but having gotten Awlaki's attention was loath to say anything that might cause Awlaki to stop writing.

According to Karim, he decided to string Awlaki and portray himself as too incompetent to pull off an act of terrorism in the UK, in the hopes that Awlaki would eventually decide to help him make hijra.

This idea was doomed to fail. In my soon-forthcoming article on Awlaki's "Constants on the Path of Jihad," I examine Awlaki's focus on taking any kind of terrorist action over taking pragmatic action calculated to succeed.

According to Karim, he proceeded to Google information about airline security and sent Awlaki the top search results, while claiming to have access to more sensitive areas of the industry.

At the same time, he wrote things that Karim thought "would have made [Awlaki] at least question my suitability for doing a terrorist attack in UK," raising a series of technical questions about whether Islam permitted him to take various steps, raising doubts about his commitment and asking to come to Yemen. Awlaki was not swayed.

If Karim's account is credible, the contradiction between Awlaki's lectures and his private statements is striking. Awlaki has repeatedly urged Western Muslims to make hijra to Muslim lands rather than live among "infidels."

However, the e-mails do line up with arguments presented in AQAP's English-language "Inspire" magazine which urges Western Muslims to remain where they are, and to focus on carrying out lone-wolf-style terrorist attacks at home in the West rather than traveling to join jihadists who are fighting in regional conflicts.

This strategy is a departure from previous jihadist concepts. In the past, jihadist ideologues have urged Muslims to become foreign fighters by traveling from the West for training and to gain experience in battle in jihadist conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Yemen.

Al Qaeda and its affiliates have increasingly embraced the lone wolf model over the foreign fighter model, despite its many limitations.

The foreign fighter model has numerous advantages to movements like Al Qaeda, including stronger justifications and the opportunity to subject recruits to extended religious indoctrination. Foreign fighters are far more likely to become experienced terrorist operatives and bring long-term value to the movement. In contrast, most lone wolves fail in their attacks and are arrested in short order, essentially removing them from the playing field before they even begin.

For more about Anwar Awlaki and other American jihadists, check out J.M. Berger's new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, on sale everywhere.

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ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M. BergerJessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its potential fall, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents. Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of

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Jihad Joe by J.M. BergerJihad Joe: Americans Who Go To War In The Name Of Islam, the new book by INTELWIRE's J.M. Berger, is now available in both Kindle and hardcover editions. Order today!

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