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Monday, December 5, 2011

Al Qaeda and the U.S. Military: Resources For Journalists

On Wednesday, a joint Congressional Homeland Security hearing will examine the threat of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism to America's military on U.S. soil. This is a very large and complex topic. I wanted to share some resources for journalists looking to cover the hearings and the topic more broadly. Please note that I will be in Washington on Wednesday afternoon if you're looking to book someone to discuss the issue.

There are two components to the terrorist threat against the military at home: Internal and external. The current external threat is, in some ways, the simpler one to understand.

Al Qaeda-inspired homegrown terrorists have shown a sharp preference for targeting military facilities in recent years, including Khalid Abdul Latif in Seattle, Yonathan Melaku in Virginia, the Fort Dix Six, Antonio Martinez in Baltimore, and Nidal Hasan and Naser Abdo, both at Fort Hood in Texas.

What's interesting about this is the fact that many of them choose military targets because of explicit discomfort about the morality targeting civilians. I wrote about this dichotomy for The Atlantic.

The internal threat is more complicated and less covered by the media. There's a baseline issue with military personnel who turn against their own, as in the cases of Melaku, Hasan, Abdo and Sgt. Hasan Akbar, all of whom were -- to a greater or lesser extent -- operating independently. They were people serving in the military who allegedly became caught up in the tension between serving in the U.S. military and feeling that they were religiously or morally unable to kill fellow Muslims in theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond these cases, which seem to be on the rise inasmuch as a such statements based on the very small sample size, the military has been the subject of deliberate and often very successful infiltration efforts by Al Qaeda and related groups.

These efforts go back to the 1980s. One of the earliest examples is the case of Ali Mohamed, a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who later became a key operational terrorist planner, trainer and security chief in Al Qaeda.

Mohamed's resume also included the position of Staff Sgt. in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Bragg. Current Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri tasked Mohamed to infiltrate U.S. intelligence during the early 1980s on behalf of EIJ, the group Zawahiri led at the time (this was before Al Qaeda even existed). After an unsuccessful run at the CIA abroad, Mohamed moved to the United States, joined the Army and became a U.S. citizen. He was in the Army for four years, during which time he stole military manuals and sensitive information from Fort Bragg, took part in active fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and conducted training for jihadists and terrorists both abroad and in the New York City area. Some of his trainees took part in the World Trade Center bombing and a thwarted plot to bomb New York landmarks and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels.

Here are some INTELWIRE-exclusive resources on Mohamed:

  • Who Is Ali Mohamed?
  • Al Qaeda Spy Crafted 9/11 Network
  • New Link Between Ali Mohamed And 9/11
  • Who Masterminded 1993 WTC Bombing?
  • 'Coleman Affidavit' on Ali Mohamed
  • Ali Mohamed Sourcebook
  • Nat Geo documentary, J.M. Berger Lead Researcher

    Mohamed's case was not the only notable infiltration of the U.S. military by Al Qaeda. During the first Gulf War, an Al Qaeda operative named Tahir was part of a religious team dispatched to Riyadh by the Saudi government in a wildly successful effort to convert U.S. soldiers to Islam.

    Tahir, a Vietnam vet who worked for Al Qaeda in Bosnia and Somalia, was one of several team members given wide-ranging access to U.S. personnel as part of an initiative presented by the Saudi government under the pretext of a cultural exchange. Another member of the team was Bilal Philips, an extremely controversial Islamic scholar who has been banned from entering Germany and the UK due to his preaching on such subjects as homosexuality and child marriage. At least hundreds of U.S. soldiers reportedly converted to Islam after the program.

    After the war ended, Tahir and Philips attempted to recruit soldiers who had been exposed to the program as jihadist fighters in Bosnia. At least a dozen U.S. military vets went to Bosnia as "trainers" under this program and some stayed as fighters. The same program later recruited and trained the terrorists who attempted to carry out the Landmarks plot. The Bosnia program was funded by the Third World Relief Agency, an Al Qaeda-linked NGO which posed as a charity but in reality ran guns to Bosnia in defiance of a U.N. embargo and supported various terrorist causes.

    As part of the recruiting program for trainers of the Bosnian mujahideen, Philips told me that he enlisted the help of Qaseem Uqdah, a vet then affiliated with the organization Muslim Military Matters, and for more than a decade after one of the key figures involved in certifying Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military. Uqdah refused repeated requests to discuss his involvement in the program with me.

    For a very detailed account of this complex and nuanced program, which has never been fully exposed before, check out my new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

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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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