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Posthumous Awlaki Article Claims CIA, FBI Tried to Recruit Him as Informant
Anwar Awlaki claimed he was repeatedly targeted for recruitment as a spy or an informant for the U.S. government in an article published posthumously in the most recent issue of Inspire, the English-language jihadist magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
It has long been speculated that Awlaki may have been an informant for the FBI while he was an imam in San Diego in the period around when he met the September 11 hijackers, but clear evidence has never emerged, and the account from Inspire does little to settle the question.
Awlaki's version of his time in America has a clear editorial slant and should be taken with a very large grain of salt, but the account given touches on several controversial and little-understood events from his life.
As reported by Catherine Herridge, Awlaki falsified immigration documents when he moved back to the United States as a college student in the 1990s in order to qualify for a U.S. government scholarship for foreign-born immigrant students (Awlaki was born in New Mexico). According to Awlaki:
Awlaki claims the scholarship program was a CIA recruiting initiative.
When I finished high school in Yemen I was accepted on a
scholarship to study in the US. But there were two problems: I was an American citizen
and these scholarships are only for foreign students and number two the
scholarship was to study agriculture and I wanted to study Engineering. My
father at the time was a Minister of Agriculture and the Americans were happy
to make some exceptions for him.
In 1991, as has been previously reported, Awlaki traveled to Afghanistan. Previous stories on this trip were only weakly sourced with little detail. Awlaki does not flesh out the trip substantially but he does acknowledge that he went to Afghanistan for jihad.
Coming from a privileged family in Yemen, son of a father
who was a high government official and a former US student himself, being a student
at a private school were all of the sons of influential people went to, and
graduating with scores among the top twenty in the country, has probably made
me of some interest to my sponsors. I was feeling the flirting of the Office of
International Students at my university. They were being very helpful and
wanted to extend the relationship with me beyond business to a personal level.
though I was not fully practicing back then but I had an extreme dislike to the
US government and was very wary of anything concerning intelligence services or
secret orders. Thus, I was cold when it came to my relationship with the Office
of International Students (which in my belief is a front for recruitment of international
students for the government and is also a front from spying on them and
reporting on them to the authorities). I also received an invitation to join
the Rotary Club which I turned down.
Awlaki claims that he scholarship (obtained fraudulently in the first place) was withdrawn after he returned from Afghanistan. Awlaki moved to San Diego where he became imam at the Ar-Ribat mosque. According to Awlaki, the drumbeat of attempted recruitment continued.
The invasion of Kuwait took place followed by the Gulf war.
That is when I started taking my religion more seriously and I took the step of
traveling to Afghanistan to fight. I spent a winter there and returned with the
intention of finishing up in the US and leaving to Afghanistan for good. My
plan was to travel back in summer, however, Kabul was opened by the mujahedeen
and I saw that the war was over and ended up staying in the US.
There was nothing happening at the mosque that
would fall under the loose category of what we today refer to as terrorism but
nevertheless, it is my firm belief that the government, for some reason, was
actively trying to plant moles inside the mosque. There were some people who
would just show up from nowhere who would try to mingle and fit in the mosque's
community in suspicious ways. When things do not work out well with them they
just disappear, only for someone else to take their place. These people would
deal with me in particularly peculiar means that makes me wonder if they were
really being send over by the government. Couldn’t they afford to send anyone
Awlaki said his much-heralded arrests for soliciting prostitution were efforts to coerce him into acting as an informant.
Awlaki did not detail his connections to the September 11 hijackers, but he discussed the FBI's scrutiny of those contacts after the attacks.
So a more aggressive means was employed. In 1996 while
waiting at a traffic light in my minivan a middle aged woman knocked on the
window of the passenger seat. By the time I rolled down the window and before
even myself or the woman uttering a word I was surrounded by police officers
who had me come out of my vehicle only to be handcuffed. I was accused of soliciting
a prostitute and then released. They made it a point to make me know in no
uncertain terms that the woman was an undercover cop. I didn’t know what to make
of the incident. However a few days later came the answer. I was visited by two
men who introduced themselves as officials with the US government (they did not
specify which government organization they belonged to) and that they are
interested in my cooperation with them. When
I asked what cooperation did they expect, they responded by saying that they
are interested in having me liaise with them concerning the Muslim community of
San Diego. I was greatly irritated by such an offer and made it clear to them
that they should never expect such cooperation from myself. I never heard back from
them again until in 1998 when I was approached by a woman, this time from my
window and again I was surrounded by police officers who this time had go to
court. This time I was told that this is a sting operation and you would not be
able to get out of it.
September 11 was a Tuesday. By Thursday the FBI
were knocking on my door. The questions revolved around the attacks. They
visited me again but this time they were asking for cooperation which I made it
clear that they shouldn’t expect and the third meeting which was the last I had
my lawyer attend the meeting.
Documents obtained by INTELWIRE indicate there was a fourth meeting between Awlaki and the FBI during this time period.
For more about Awlaki, 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.
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