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Saturday, November 19, 2011
The Value Of Exposing CollaboratorsDaniel Maldanado, an American convert to Islam who went to fight alongside Islamists in Somalia, was once a big hit on the jihadi Internet forums. Arrested in 2007, he wrote craven, apologetic letters to the judge considering his sentence even as he wrote grandiose accounts of his jihad experiences to correspondents on the forums. One such letter described his grand adventures on the lam in the African wild with a group of fellow fighters:
For two weeks we did not eat at all except for one time at the very beginning of our wanderings. One day we came out to a Savannah area; it looked like something out of Lion King! We were careful, as helicopters were still in the sky and we were obviously being hunted by them. We would stay along the edge of the jungle area until we felt it was safe to actually go out into the long-grassed Savanna.This missive became rather popular online, and Maldonado was seen as someone who had been living the dream. Less publicized were his court letters which laid out more bluntly the unpleasantness of his experience, including feeling awkward about being the only white guy in his group and general ineptitude.
Read Maldonado's letters to the court
The court letters didn't get much attention from jihobbyists at the time, but Maldonado is now getting plenty of negative attention from his former friends, thanks to his testimony this week implicating his former friend and fellow Boston-area jihadist Tarek Mehanna.
The former hero is now decidedly the goat. A thread on the hardcore Islamic Awakening forum concerning Maldonad's testimony sprouted 62 posts in just about one day (it was spun off by moderators from a thread on the Mehanna trial). A sampling of the responses:
"Make sure when you see [your children after an early release for cooperating] you sit them in your lap and tell them that this time together is thanks to lies and stabbing a Muslim in the back."There were also those who defended Maldonado, somewhat tepidly, and many who suggested they should not be the judges. Many sharp words, accusations and condemnations were exchanged. In short, it was exactly the kind of thing that ordinary people and counterterrorism officials would like to see on these forums -- fitna, dissent and division.
U.S. officials should make cooperators and collaborators more visible. Since 9/11, many a convicted jihadist has fulfilled the conditions of a plea in total secrecy, never emerging to testify in court, sometimes even being released from prison early without anyone ever knowing what sort of cooperation they provided.
Disclosing this cooperation has multiple positive effects. First, it creates the divisions seen above. Secondly, it discredits jihadist narratives. Maldonado's letter to the forums about his adventures in Somalia will not be so warmly received in the future. It reinforces an existing meme among would-be jihadists that you can't trust anyone, no matter how credible they look. And finally, it hedges against convicted terrorists who play a double game of cooperating and then recanting, whether in letters from prison or after their release. If Maldonado succeeds in getting an early release thanks to his testimony against Mehanna, he won't receive a warm reception among his radical former friends.
For more about 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.
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
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ISIS: THE STATE
Jessica 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 Intelwire.com.