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Are the Oklahoma Beheading, Other Attacks Tip of the Iceberg for American Jihad?

Alton Nolen

AP

Brian Fraga - published on 10/08/14

Authorities working on inoculating Muslim youth in US from radicalism

Responding to continued airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group has called upon Muslims living in the West to launch terrorist attacks in defense of Islam.

"Before, they were telling recruits to go to Iraq and Syria, to join the fight and join ISIS. Now, they’re saying this is a war of the West attacking Islam. The language has changed," said Humera Khan, the executive director of Muflehun, a think tank that specializes in countering terrorism.

Khan told Aleteia that the Islamic State group’s new rhetoric could raise the possibility of terrorist attacks in the United States.

"The risk of Al Qaeda attacking us has never gone down. Now, you have another group talking about targeting the West," Khan said. "Are they able to do it? We have no idea."

Whether average young, disaffected Muslims living in the United States and Europe actually have the capabilities to conduct terrorist operations is up for debate, but it is undeniable that the Islamic State and radical Islamism possess a certain appeal. Officials have said that more than 100 Americans have gone to fight in Syria.

"What we see with ISIS is an organization that has the capacity to reach into this country and pull people out of the normal circumstances of life, to have them abandon their family and friends, and go fight half a world away, and in many cases, they’re going to come back home and they will not come back the same," said Edward Turzanski, the co-chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the FBI is asking the public’s help in identifying individuals who are traveling or have traveled overseas to fight with terrorist groups.

"ISIS is a consequential organization within a broader Islamist movement that continues to gain strength, not just in the Middle East, but also Europe and the United States, and that should concern us," Turzanski told Aleteia.

In August, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, Amel Shimoun Nona, said his diocese had been overrun by radical Muslims, and he warned Westerners that "Islam does not say that all men are equal." The archbishop, who is now in exile, also said said that if Westerners “do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home.”

The Obama administration has taken note of the phenomenon of young Muslims, many of whom have lived their entire lives in the United States, being drawn to radical Islam, thanks in part to the Islamic State group’s savvy use of social media to recruit fighters. The FBI, the Justice Department, Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center have launched pilot programs in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis to deter young Muslims considered to be at risk of being radicalized and susceptible to recruitment into jihadist groups.

But the federal government appears to be fighting an uphill battle, given several recent highly-publicized crimes involving radicalized Muslims in the United States, and the fact that scores of young American Muslims continue to show interest in joining the Islamic State.

"You see great concerns in Minnesota specifically with the Somali community because large numbers of those people have gone over to fight on behalf of ISIS," Turzanski said. "I think if you took a patient look at killings performed by Muslims who have been radicalized in the United States and Europe, you will see a very uncomfortable number of acts of violence, and it ties back to the Islamist movement."

On Oct. 1, a 23-year-old Portland, Oregon man, Mohamed Mohamud, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for plotting to detonate a bomb during a public Christmas tree lighting in 2010. Mohamud, then 19, was targeted in an FBI sting after his father notified authorities of his son’s leanings toward violent jihad, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, 29-year-old Ali Muhammad Brown is accused of executing four men in New Jersey and Washington state earlier this year as part of a crusade to punish the the U.S. government for its foreign policy in the Middle East. Brown is alleged to have shot three men in Washington state, and is also charged with killing a 19-year University of Richmond student who was traveling home to New Jersey. In court documents, Brown described himself as a strict Muslim who was angry with the U.S. government’s military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a particularly gruesome incident that echoed some of the Islamic State’s actions in Iraq and Syria, authorities said 30-year-old Alton Nolen beheaded a coworker and stabbed another person during a Sept. 25 attack in a food processing plant outside Oklahoma City. Nolen had been suspended from the plant after making a racist remark against white people, according to published reports.

Law enforcement authorities said they were investigating Nolen’s attack as an act of "workplace violence," though subsequent reports indicate that investigators discovered that Nolen had recently converted to Islam, and had made radical Islamic statements on social media. Nolen also attended an Oklahoma City mosque where the former imam, according to FBI documents, had ties to radical American cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011, Brietbart News reported.

Khan cautioned that Nolen’s alleged motivation for attacking his coworkers is still not fully known.

"In this particular case, the FBI has not released much information," Khan said. "We don’t know if it was even planned or not. We just know he went into the workplace. We need to remember that this would not be the first case of someone who is mentally unstable killing others."

Turzanski noted the al Awlaki connection in Nolen’s background in pointing out the effective propaganda of Islamist groups.

"Whether it’s ISIS or whatever Al Qaeda-spawned or related or inspired Islamist group there is, they do manage through social media to be able to reach people in the West, and that has been very effective in terms of propaganda, recruitment and unfortunately, even in some cases, direction," Turzanski said.

Bill Relf, a geopolitical expert and author of the recent book "The Iranian Expert," told Aleteia that he believes the Western military presence in the Middle East increases the likelihood of jihadist-inspired terrorist attacks in the United States.

"The threat could be proportionate to what we do," Relf said. "If we have soldiers in the Middle East, killing ISIS, then that could launch a chain reaction in our country of people trying to launch terrorist attacks."

Western governments are keeping an eye on citizens who have used their passports to join the fight in Iraq and Syria, with concerns that they could return home radicalized and launch domestic terrorist attacks. However, Khan said that many Western Muslims who went to fight with ISIS have left disillusioned over that organization’s barbaric tactics. Khan said Western governments could help reintegrate those disillusioned Muslims, as well as obtaining valuable intelligence about the Islamic State’s leaders and strategy.

Turzanski said he believes jihadist movements such as the Islamic State are enjoying success against the West because of secularism.

"Secularists are especially incapable of dealing with Islamists because they don’t understand the motivation," Turzanski said. "I think the erosion of cultural confidence that I tie to the rise of secularism and the loss of moral authority on the the part of organized religion that has infected the West has left many countries incapable of recognizing the evil that is Al Qaeda and ISIS."

Brian Fraga is a daily newspaper reporter who writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.

Tags:
IslamIslamist MilitantsTerrorism
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