Connecting the terrorist dots of 2009
They show that Al Qaeda does not have a political strategy for establishing an Islamic state.
What do the terrorists who attempted to strike US territory in 2009 have in common? What is their connection with the Arab Middle East, often presented as the cradle of Islamic radicalization.Skip to next paragraph
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The answer seems to be very little.
What ties together Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian-born, British-educated, trained-in-Yemen man charged in the failed Christmas Day plane bombing; Anwar al-Awlaki, the fierce radical Islamic preacher who, in fact, holds a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University instead of a master’s in divinity from an Arab theological school; and Nidal Malik Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist of Palestinian descent charged in the November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas?
To understand, we have to consider lesser-known activists, like Daniel Patrick Boyd, a white US citizen and convert to Islam accused of leading a jihadist group in North Carolina, and Bryant Neal Vinas, an Hispanic US citizen from Long Island, N.Y., who pleaded guilty last year to assisting Al Qaeda and other terrorism-related charges.
These men are not devout Middle Eastern Muslims who left a war-torn fundamentalist Arab society to attack the West. Most have only distant connections with the Middle East. Converts are overrepresented among Al Qaeda activists, from Jose Padilla to Dhiren Barot, who was sentenced in the UK in 2006 for planning to bomb the New York Stock Exchange (and other sites).
How to connect the dots?
They are first of all globalized young people identifying with a virtual and imaginary Muslim ummah. Their life is often spent along a triangle: The family comes from one country; they move to a Western country (or were born there), where they become radicalized; and go to fight in a third one.
In fact, neither Pakistan nor Yemen nor Afghanistan is the key place for radicalization. These terrorists go there after being radicalized in the West or in a Western environment. And radicalization does not occur in a concrete political praxis with real people but in a solitary experience of a virtual community: the ummah on the Web.
The Nigerian Mr. Abdulmutallab studied in an English international school in French-speaking Togo, before going to the United Kingdom. Dhiren Barot came from an Africa-based Hindu family and was educated in the UK, where he converted to Islam. English is the language of recruitment and communication. These radicals don’t have any permanent link with a specific country: As with their forerunners of the 1990s, they travel from one jihad to the other, use training camps where available, and have never been involved in local politics in the countries of training or residence.