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Educated and radical: Why Pakistan produces Faisal Shahzads

In Pakistan, educated middle-class youths such as Faisal Shahzad, the accused Times Square car bomber, have ready access to jihadist and other radical, anti-American resources.

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One of the most popular nightly TV shows hosted by Zaid Hamid regularly unfurls elaborate sinister theories about how the US is attempting to destabilize Pakistan. Mr. Hamid is dubbed by some as “Pakistan’s answer to Glenn Beck,” the popular talk show host on Fox News derided by many as promoting outlandish theories.

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Hamid also advocates the Pakistani conquest of longtime rival India and has suggested that the 2008 Mumbai attacks were staged to victimize Pakistan, in the same way the 9/11 attacks were “staged.” The show has a massive following among Pakistani youth, and supporters include celebrities such as rock star Ali Azmat and fashion designer Maria B.

Jihadist websites

Another concern, not only in Pakistan, is easy access to jihadist websites. On Monday, Fox News reported that while in the US, a man named Faisal Shahzad became a regular commenter on Islamist Salafist sites with connections to Al Qaeda.

Such sources can help steer personal crises or political resentment into ideological anger. Media reports have said Shahzad may have been in dire straits financially or angry at US military action in Muslim countries.

Many Pakistanis have legitimate concerns regarding the US involvement in Afghanistan and the negative impact it has had upon Pakistan since 9/11, says Cyril Almeida, a Dawn columnist. But he says that what sets Pakistan apart from other countries with populations that are hostile toward the US, in Latin America for example, is the ease with which angry youth are able to seek out jihadist material and find so-called "hangers" – a sort of career adviser in militancy who will act as a counselor and make the necessary introductions to jihadist groups.

Mr. Almedia notes that, even when Pakistani media name mosques that are affiliated with banned jihadist groups, the government or police do not act on that information.

“If this [material] wasn’t out there and accessible,” he says, then people like Shahzad “would not be able to move from Phase A, which is some kind of vague anger at the sins committed by America, to Phase B, which is violent extremism.”

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