al-Qaida Now Poses Inner Threat
By PAUL SPERRY, IDB
If al-Qaida looks and sounds different as we approach 9/11’s ninth anniversary, it’s because it’s under new American management. No fewer than four U.S. citizens and a permanent U.S. resident have risen to senior leadership posts.
These five English-speaking leaders are actively planning or facilitating attacks against their countrymen, while recruiting and radicalizing other American turncoats to carry them out.
By remaking itself into an American enterprise, al-Qaida is now more lethal than ever. Its new generation of leaders understands the way America works, having lived here for decades. They have a better sense of our security blind spots. They also know which kinds of attacks will produce both mass panic and maximum economic damage.
Al-Qaida’s indigenous rebirth, moreover, befogs our military strategy. We’re no longer at war with just a foreign enemy, but fellow Americans recruited by the enemy. They’re supplied, in turn, by a seemingly endless stream of homegrown foot soldiers, fed by a native Muslim population once believed quiescent and nonthreatening.
Shockingly, the War on Terror has morphed into a mini-civil war, and it’s posing major new challenges to its prosecution. We’re now battling our own citizens. How do we deal with wartime traitors? Can the CIA assassinate them? Can it spy on them? What about their civil rights?
This muddies an already muddy war, and it’s all part of al-Qaida’s plan.
After 9/11, the group vowed to convert our own people against us, something once thought impossible. But it’s managed to groom a startling number of American citizens and residents and install them in top leadership slots, including:
* Adnan Shukrijumah: The long-time Florida resident, who obtained a green card while living in the U.S. for more than 15 years, has replaced 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as chief of al-Qaida’s terror operations.
Believed to be directing U.S. terrorist cells from Pakistan, Shukrijumah, 35, recently was indicted as a conspirator in last year’s plot to blow up the New York subway. There’s a $5 million reward for his capture.
* Adam Gadahn: The California-born Muslim convert assists Shukrijumah and Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida’s chief propagandist. He tailors the group’s message to American Muslims, as well as disaffected minorities ripe for conversion.
In 2006, Gadahn invoked U.S. Muslims to attack military bases, singling out California’s Camp Pendleton as a candidate for “a shooting spree.” Three years later, a Muslim soldier went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood. Gadahn, 31, praised the attack and urged more.
The first American to be charged with treason in 50 years, Gadahn is hiding in Pakistan with a $1 million bounty on his head.
* Anwar Awlaki: Articulate and media savvy, the American-born cleric is al-Qaida’s top recruiter of Western suicide cells.
Awlaki has recruited or radicalized countless homegrown terrorists, including the Fort Hood shooter and the Times Square bomber, both English-speaking citizens. Authorities also believe he ordered the Christmas airliner attack, which puts Awlaki in the middle of the last three major terror acts on U.S. soil.
Thought to be bin Laden’s heir, Awlaki has called on American Muslims to turn against their government, and has even justified killing American civilians. “Jihad against America is binding on every other (American) Muslim,” he said.
The 39-year-old Awlaki lived in the U.S. for 21 years before fleeing to Yemen after 9/11. Treasury last month designated him a “key leader of al-Qaida” and froze his assets. He’s also on the CIA’s terrorist hit list.
* Samir Khan: A U.S. citizen who grew up in New York and Charlotte, N.C., the Web-savvy 24-year-old is now in Yemen helping Awlaki target American audiences as al-Qaida’s newest propagandist.
Khan is editor of al-Qaida’s splashy new organ, “Inspire,” a Webzine that provides jihadists step-by-step instructions in English on making bombs that can elude bomb-sniffing dogs.
* Omar Hammami: The ex-Baptist convert to Islam grew up in the Alabama suburbs before joining al-Qaida.
He’s now, at 25, a field commander in Somalia, another key al-Qaida hot spot, where he’s recruiting and training U.S. jihadists. His trainees include dozens of Minneapolis college kids, including one who earned the dubious title, “first American suicide bomber.”
This new cadre of al-Qaida leaders is enlisting a growing faction of the U.S. Muslim community, many of them African-American and white converts who don’t fit the Arab terrorist profile. As many as three dozen U.S. converts are said to have gone through al-Qaida training in Yemen, where they’ve received Awlaki’s blessing. They reportedly include blond-haired, blue-eyed types, fitting a profile of Americans that al-Qaida in the past could only dream of recruiting.
Its recruiting effort is made all the easier by some 15,000 jihadi Web sites, 80% of which are operating off servers based inside the U.S. Across the country, moreover, mosques and Islamic bookstores sell Awlaki’s recorded sermons as CD box sets. It’s all protected “free speech.”
“Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie,” Awlaki boasts. More and more, he warns, terror attacks will come “from within” ‹ even within our own military.
Meanwhile, the so-called moderates of the Muslim establishment are sitting on their hands. Major Muslim groups have refused to cooperate in terror probes until the FBI backs off mosques. Their cold war turned hot last fall, when a Muslim leader in Detroit died in a shoot-out with agents, triggering outcry throughout the Muslim community.
It’s just a matter of time before a homegrown nut inspired by a radical mosque or Web site overcomes their bomb-making learning curve and successfully detonates one, blowing up a building or a mall or a plane inside America. And then we’ll all wonder why more wasn’t done to shut down these sites. Of course, by then we’ll be sweeping up the remains of victims, and it will be too late.
“America cannot and will not win,” Awlaki hisses. With Washington running from the war, disengaging from an enemy that now counts our own citizens among its senior ranks, we cannot afford to dismiss his words as bluster.
Sperry, formerly IBD Washington bureau chief, is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “Infiltration” and “Muslim Mafia.”