Monday, November 16, 2009

Introduction of 9/11 terrorists in U.S. prisons runs the risk of creating more terrorists

The introduction of some of the most prominent al-Qa`ida terrorists, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, into the U.S. prison system will risk radicalizing other inmates as well as providing a cause célèbre that other violent Islamists can rally behind. Like almost all things in the domestic counter-terrorism arena, one need only look to the Europeans, in this case the British, who always seem to face these problems before we do. The U.K.-based counter-terrorism think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, just released a report demonstrating how Britain's most dangerous al-Qa`ida leaders continue to proselytize, recruit, and produce propaganda, all from inside some of Britain's highest security prisons, thus presenting a security risk to not only the prison population and corrections officers, but also to the British population writ large when the radicalized individuals are eventually released.

Radicalization in prison is a sub-set of the overall radicalization phenomenon; however, due to the audience, people generally predisposed to violence and anti-government sentiments, and the setting, a confined space without much in the way of distractions, the radicalization of Muslim converts in U.S. prisons represents a greater threat than radicalization in the larger population outside of prison.

Some of the most dedicated radical Islamists in the U.S. have been converts. These individuals feel that by dedicating their lives to violence on behalf of groups such as al-Qa`ida they will become true believers or prove their devotion. Unfortunately, many converts do so while in prison, thus coupling the idea of becoming a radical Islamist with someone that is already prone to violence and possibly already infused with anti-government or anti-establishment ideals. This creates the perfect embodiment of the violent Islamist, or terrorist, that Osama bin Laden would like to see operating within the United States.

According to the Quilliam report, Abu Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as "bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe," published fatwas — religious rulings — on the internet while sequestered in one of the UK's "supermax" prisons. The report detailed how "last year, under the noses of [prison officials], Qatada and Adel Abdel Bary, leader of the UK branch of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, were able to smuggle out a series of fatwas legitimising attacks by Al Qaeda and endorsing the murder of moderate Muslims."

Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," was born in Britain to a Jamaican father and white mother. After dropping out of school and pursuing a life of crime, Reid was imprisoned. There he followed his father's example and converted to Islam, ultimately adhering to a more radical version of the religion and attending the notorious Finsbury Park mosque, the north-central London mosque infamous for its salafist imams preaching jihad as well as for its coterie of al-Qa`ida attendees. Reid eventually attempted to ignite explosives concealed in his shoes while aboard a trans-Atlantic flight from the UK to the U.S.

This phenomenon is not restricted to Europe. In 2005 Kevin James (aka Shaykh Shabaab Murshid), an African-American Muslim convert who, while incarcerated in California in 1997 founded the radical Jam`iyyat ul-Islam is-Saheeh (JIS), was indicted along with three co-conspirators with plotting to attack synagogues and U.S. military installations. According to media sources, James recruited one of his co-conspirators in prison who was then released and subsequently recruited another co-conspirator. Based on evidence obtained after the arrest of James and his co-conspirators, the plot was in the advanced stages.

In May of this year New Yorker James Cromitie and three others allegedly conspired to attack New York-area synagogues and shoot down U.S. military aircraft. All reportedly converted to radical Islam during one of their many stints in prison.

More recently, in late October the FBI and Detroit Police Department served arrest warrants for eleven members of the radical Islamist group, the Ummah, led by now-deceased Luqman Abdullah (aka Christopher Thomas). Abdullah led the Ummah on-behalf of Jamil al-Amin (aka H. Rapp Brown), who is currently serving a life sentence for murdering a police officer in Fulton County, Georgia in 2000. Al-Amin, formerly a Black Panther, espoused anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric. He wanted to create a separate state for his followers run under shari`a (fundamentalist Islamic law that can be taken too far such as in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan). For almost a decade, Abdullah, a Muslim convert who converted while in prison, continued al-Amin's work, preaching violent rhetoric to his followers, the majority of whom also converted to Islam while serving time in prison. Abdullah was killed during the arrest attempt in October when he fired on law enforcement officers, killing a police K-9 in the process.

By no means will all prisoners convert to Islam, nor are all prisoners who convert to Islam likely to carry out terrorist attacks once they are released back into society. However, it only required 19 terrorists to execute the 9/11 attacks, only four to carry out the 7 July 2005 attacks on the London transportation system. President Obama and Attorney General Holder need to carefully weigh the risks associated with allowing these al-Qa`ida icons into our civilian prisons where violent men are just awaiting spiritual guidance in the form of violent extremism.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Civilian trials for 9/11 terror suspects

Today it was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder that five terror suspects, currently being held by the military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be transferred to U.S. civilian judicial authority in New York in preparation for a civilian trial. While there have been no shortage of "experts" explaining how this is a good thing for the rule of law, and I am sure they are well intentioned, they fail to explain how a terrorist, captured by the military on a field of battle, can be tried in a civilian court. These are not traditional criminals or criminal cases.

Most legal talking-heads that support this decision cite the success of previous terror cases tried in civilian courts; cases such as Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the Blind Sheikh), Ramzi Youssef, and Zacarias Moussaoui, all terrorists and all tried and convicted in federal court. AG Holder touts the expertise of federal prosecutors in these cases, and rightly so. However, those cases, and many other terrorist cases, all had one thing in common, they were pursued in a traditional legal manner by law enforcement officers trained in the standards and expectations of civilian courts and that took great care not to do anything that could render the cases un-winnable in those courts.

There are any number of loopholes these terrorists can pursue in the civilian legal system in order to thwart our efforts in the pursuit of justice. In a standard criminal complaint law enforcement officers are immediately involved, pursuing the suspects and meticulously gathering and documenting evidence. Once they capture the suspect certain rules must be followed, such as reading of Miranda rights, due process, right to speedy trials, right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and so forth, most of which the U.S. military is not trained to do; they are trained to find, close with, and kill the enemy. In cases where enemy soldiers are captured, they are tried before Military Tribunals, which have their own legal standards and expectations and have been used throughout our nation's history; they were not simply created by former-President Bush.

Some areas of concern from a legal standpoint include protection against illegal searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment), the right to due process and protection against self-incrimination (Fifth Amendment), and protection against cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment). Will the fact that some of the defendants (i.e. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) were "tortured" be used in their defense? If they incriminated themselves during that torture, will that be thrown out? Can they argue that they were not afforded speedy trials because they were held for years at "black sites" or Guantanamo Bay? Additionally, what about the use of classified information or intelligence in the capture or prosecution of these individuals? Will it be allowed in court? What will be the standard as far as how it was obtained or used? Also, what about the assistance of foreign allies, particularly countries with questionable legal practices, such as Pakistan and the Afghan militias that helped overthrow and capture key Taliban and al-Qa`ida operatives?

I am sure AG Holder, his legal advisers, and those of the Department of Defense, CIA, FBI, and other agencies have all reviewed these points and took them into consideration before making the decision to try these terrorists in civilian courts. But that is no guarantee that a judge or jury will reach the same conclusions as did they; just look at O.J. Simpson. Not to mention, by putting them in the civilian legal system they are free to pursue appeal after appeal, essentially taking advantage of the very legal system they have sought to bring down since 1993. It also sets a precedent for future terrorists to seek trials through civilian courts. Likewise, any decisions made in the rulings of these first five with respect to what is or is not allowed will establish how all future cases are pursued.

I completely disagree with President Obama's decision to bring these terrorists to the U.S. for trial. I think it opens us up for scrutiny of the practices used to capture and hold terrorists, not to mention allowing that information out into the public domain where future terrorists can learn lessons, and will delay justice for the survivors of 9/11. Of course, there are those that will argue that bringing these individuals back to the scene of their crimes will provide closure for the survivors, but I contend the survivors will not have closure until these animals are 6-feet under, and I do not think they care how they get there or who puts them there.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Was the Ft. Hood Shooting a Case of Homegrown Terrorism?

There are many people that are speculating about the reasons behind the shooting and killing of almost 55 people at Ft. Hood, Texas late last week. The alleged shooter, U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, is an American Muslim convert who supposedly hated the idea of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. He also allegedly yelled “Allah-u Akbar,” or “God is Great” in Arabic, before he began shooting Soldiers and civilians gathered at Ft. Hood’s Soldier Readiness Center preparing to deploy overseas later this year.

But what happened that changed the beliefs of a U.S. Army officer, a doctor no-less, that made him decide to attack his fellow military and civilian colleagues, taking the lives of 13? Some accounts, mostly from friends or family members, indicate Hasan joined the military because he wanted to help America after the attacks by violent extremist Islamists on September 11, 2001. However, that does not reflect his alleged actions on November 5, 2009; the worst terrorist attack against Americans since 9/11. If Hasan did in fact hold moderate beliefs when he joined the Army in 2001, he certainly lost them by last week.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph ran an article about Hasan’s ties to the al-Qa`ida mouthpiece Anwar al-Aulaqi who is mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report as a "significant San Diego contact" for two of the 9/11 hijackers. Aulaqi eventually move to the DC-area and served as an imam in the controversial Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Great Falls, Virginia. Some of you may remember that this is also the same mosque the 9/11 hijackers from San Diego began attending after their move to Alexandria, Virginia. Likewise, according to the Daily Telegraph, Hasan supposedly attended this mosque around the same time as two of the hijackers and while Aulaqi was the imam, preaching his venomous sermons.

Aulaqi, who moved to Yemen to escape increasing attention from the FBI, continues to run his extremist website where he posts radical sermons inciting violence against the United States and our allies. Other homegrown terrorists, such as the Ft. Dix Five, have been shown to download and share Aulaqi's anti-American sermons as inspiration to further self-radicalize.

Lone gunmen are nothing new to American society. We have had Columbine, the Amish school shooting, Virginia Tech, the DC sniper, and the shooting in Orlando, Florida last week. While no less horrendous, they were all cases of selfish people who just lost their minds, for lack of a better description, and not cases of individuals, independent in action, but unified in belief and bent on subverting America to their bastardized version of Islam.

It may seem that Hasan snapped because he was due to deploy to Afghanistan in the near future; however, it may also have been the culmination of self-radicalization to the point of violent extremism. If it is proven that he in fact had ties, physical or virtual, to Aulaqi and if he continued to self-radicalize using Aulaqi's violent extremist views, this will be the worst terrorist attack on Americans since 9/11 and really the first case of a successful homegrown Islamist terrorist attack in American history.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Al-Qa`ida and the world-wide radical Islamic movement: We may be too late

We have missed the opportunity to contain al-Qa`ida’s radical message within Afghanistan / Pakistan. Failing to quickly eliminate the key players, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and accepting Pakistan’s unsuccessful actions against the Taliban, has allowed them and al-Qa`ida to become icons for jihad and to promulgate their propaganda through their media centers, thus allowing their message of hate and intolerance to become the mantra of other radicals around the world. This never-ending propaganda, coupled with the lack of effective Information Operations from our side, provides the motivation that is so indispensable for al-Qa`ida to transform radicals in Western countries into violent extremists.

Recent events demonstrate how local or regional groups, inspired by al-Qa`ida’s brand of radical Islam, present a serious threat to our security. Just within the past ninety-days the FBI has arrested or indictments have been revealed for:

- Hosam Maher Husein Smadi in Dallas, TX
- Michael Finton (aka Talib Islam) in Springfield, IL
- Najibullah Zazi in Colorado Springs, CO; two others were also arrested in
connection to Zazi for non-terrorism-related crimes
- Betim Kaziu in New York
- Daniel Patrick Boyd (and seven cohorts) in North Carolina

Experts do not believe there are connections between any of the cases. I happen to agree; however, that makes it all the more worrisome. If the cases were connected, taking down one would lead to the next and the next, making it easier for law enforcement to “connect-the-dots.” This is not the case. In each case law enforcement was lucky enough to stumble upon the primary individual(s) and insert themselves into their decision-making process or to obtain enough surveillance information (i.e. photos, wiretaps, informants, etc) to take them down.

But what about the next guy or group of guys? The old axiom, “three people can keep a secret if two are dead,” rings especially true. When a number of inexperienced, undisciplined people are involved in a plot sooner or later someone is going to give something up, allowing law enforcement the opportunity to infiltrate the group and put an end to their plans. However, the fewer the people, and especially the fewer the connections to other radicals, particularly those overseas that may be under electronic monitoring, the less chance we will have to stop them. Similarly, homegrown extremists have the luxury of already operating inside of our overseas and border security layers and being familiar with our culture, thus reducing the planning timeframe and the likelihood they will be caught before executing an attack. Eventually, one of them will get lucky.

So, what do all these cases mean for our national security? Well, for one, it means that al-Qa`ida the group is no longer our only terrorist threat. It proves Osama bin Laden does not need to dispatch a group of violent extremists to the United States to carry out an attack; the ideology is enough to motivate lone-wolves or groups of like-minded radicals to attempt to plan and execute an attack on their own. With the threat emanating from overseas our intelligence community is in a position to intercept phone calls or emails related to planning or a future attack, thus providing critical details on those involved. On the other hand, threats emanating from within our borders are much more difficult to track or interdict due to stringent domestic intelligence laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The bad guys are not ignorant of this.

Continuing the mission in Afghanistan, while critical to keeping al-Qa`ida’s core leadership off-balance, does not diminish the threat we face from radical Islamists in the Homeland. While we have no legitimate or factual numbers that we can point to, and therefore cannot correlate our presence in Afghanistan or Iraq with the increase in homegrown threats, on the surface it looks as if the two probably are related. We must face the fact that the threat in Homeland from radical Islamists, both with and without overseas training or connections that could potentially tip-off law enforcement or intelligence officials, is increasing.

As the threat from within increases, the belief by the American people that the Homeland is at risk of a terrorist attack is at its lowest level since before 9/11. According to a Rasmussen poll, 49% of Americans believe a terrorist attack is somewhat likely, down 18% from last year and 21% from two years ago. It can be argued that, just as former-President Bush failed to pursue al-Qa`ida by diverting attention and resources to Iraq, so President Obama and his administration are diverting critical attention and resources to the liberal domestic agenda (i.e. healthcare reform, wealth re-distribution, etc). This creates an apathetic, or at least an improperly informed, environment in which these radicals can operate.

The luck our law enforcement has had recently should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration and the American people. If we are lucky, we get a few warnings before something big happens. We have received more than enough warnings, as evident by the list above; we need to address the problem of homegrown radicals now before one of them succeeds in carrying out a terrorist attack in the Homeland.