Following the November massacre that took place at Fort Hood, Texas and the failed terrorist plane attack by the so-called ‘underpants’ bomber, all eyes have been focused on Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al-Qaeda leader who had been in contact with the perpetrators of both acts. Statements from those involved show al-Awlaki’s influence played a key role in the violence. If indeed that is the case, how many other souls has al-Awlaki been able to fanaticize? And could one be a leader of a local branch of one of the largest Muslim groups in the U.S.?
Anwar Nasser al-Awlaki, a regional commander for al-Qaeda in Yemen, has been suspected of having direct participation in a number of past terrorist attacks against the United States and elsewhere. However, these attacks have not garnered nearly the amount of worldwide attention for al-Awlaki as that which occurred recently by the hands of two others.
On November 5, 2009, Nidal Hasan, a 39-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army, opened fire in a military processing center, murdering 13 of his fellow soldiers and wounding 30.
On December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian national, attempted to blow up a U.S. airliner using explosives found hidden in his underwear.
Subsequent to the violence, reports surfaced that both perpetrators had formerly been in contact with al-Awlaki. According to al-Awlaki, prior to the Fort Hood attack, Hasan had e-mailed him to discuss the subject of murdering American troops. And according to Yemeni authorities, it is believed that Abdulmutallab was fitted with his bomb at a home being used by al-Awlaki.
Question: How many more people has al-Awlaki been able to inspire in this way?
Hasan and Abdulmutallab were not the only ones taken in by him. Abdulmutallab said there were 20 more like himself still at large, and al-Awlaki’s charisma reached thousands, as evidenced by his popular (now defunct) Facebook fan page.
One possible recruit of al-Awlaki’s is a leader from the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Los Angeles), Affad Shaikh. Shaikh has written about how, following the September 11th attacks, he began “listening to” al-Awlaki.
He wrote, “I would not say that I became practicing [sic] becasue the I felt bad for the treatment by, as you say it, “kafrs”… But the deal was that there was a lack on connecting and community for me there that shared or [sic] experianced what I went through after 9⁄11. It was not easy for me to brush it aside… At first I didnt want to be [the ‘token Muslim’], but gradually with the treatment and [sic] pervalent atmostphere, I just went from one book to another, started with Espisito and Armstrong, went to Kotob and reading classical translations of Ghazzali and Ibn Taymiyya, and listening to people like Anwar Awlaki and Suhaib Webb.”
The “Kotob” whom he is referencing is Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood icon who is considered by many to be the father of the modern Islamic extremist movement. Certainly, it is well known that it was his ideology that was adopted by al-Qaeda.
Suhaib Webb is a popular speaker at various radical Muslim functions throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Shaikh’s quote is in reference to a piece he had penned in September 2006 for his personal blog, entitled ‘Five Years Ago an American Muslim was born.’ In it, he discusses how 9⁄11 transformed him into a fundamentalist Muslim. He said that, prior to 9⁄11, he “had no desire to be involved in” radical Islamic groups such as “the Muslim Student Association or the Council on American-Islamic Relations.”
Indeed, soon Shaikh became involved with both organizations – the latter, CAIR, having major ties to Hamas and its global leader Mousa Abu Marzook.
At the time, Shaikh was residing in San Diego, a former stomping ground to al-Awlaki and two of the 9⁄11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, whom witnesses claim al-Awlaki became close with.
Another individual close to al-Awlaki was Edgar Hopida, the current Public Relations Director of CAIR-San Diego. Hopida attended al-Awlaki’s San Diego mosque, Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami, where al-Awlaki trained Hopida in the Islamic religion shortly after he converted from Catholicism. Hopida told a local television station that al-Awlaki was a “respected imam” and that people should not jump to conclusions regarding his terrorism ties.
However, if in fact al-Awlaki was involved in the above individuals’ lives more than merely knowing them, then those in charge need to jump to conclusions and quickly move to examine every individual that has ever had a connection to him.
Today, Affad Shaikh is the Civil Rights Manager of CAIR-Los Angeles, the main chapter of CAIR-California. He has held this position for nearly four years, since April 2006.
Within this time, in July 2008, Shaikh was stopped with others at the U.S./Mexico border by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. According to Shaikh, the agents, whom he described as “ignorant, incompetent and inhuman,” had reason to believe that Shaikh and his associates were plotting to assassinate President Bush. Shaikh complained that he was held for “three hours” at the checkpoint.
As well, Shaikh’s radical views tend to mimic those of violent extremists overseas. He has referred to Americans in Iraq as “Crusaders,” and he has said that “the United States is among the least peaceful nations in the world.”
Concerning Nidal Hassan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the 9⁄11 hijackers, warning signs and actual warnings (in the case of Abdulmutallab’s father), which could have possibly averted disasters, were overlooked. These signs must not be overlooked with regard to Affad Shaikh and the like.
In the name of national security, precautions need to be taken. About Anwar al-Awlaki, a.k.a. Abu Atiq, we cannot say we weren’t warned.