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ICSR Insight – Jihad at home

By Shiraz Maher and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens

The trial of a Shasta Khan, who along with her husband Mohammed Sajid Khan, was arrested in Oldham last year on terrorism charges has ended with her conviction today on three terrorism charges. The pair had prepared homemade bombs and planned to target Jewish communities in the North-West, particularly in Salford and Prestwich.

This case highlights the ongoing threat of “self-radicalisation” through the internet, and the continued influence of jihadist publications, such as Inspire magazine, which are aimed at Westerners.  It also demonstrates the lingering potency of deceased ideologues such as Anwar al-Awlaki, whose ideas continue to present a challenge to Western security agencies.

For a thorough account of Anwar al-Awlaki’s influence over the Western jihad movement see our publication As American as Apple Pie, published last year. A forthcoming report by ICSR, Al-Qaeda at the Crossroads, will explore the strategic challenges and opportunities currently facing the group.

Background

•    Mohammed Sajid Khan, 33, and his wife Shasta, 38, both from Oldham, were arrested under the Terrorism Act in August 2011. Mohammed Khan pleaded guilty for preparation for acts of terrorism before the trial of his wife, who denied all charges.

•    Shasta Khan has been found guilty on one count of conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism (Terrorism Act 2006) and two counts of possession of a record useful to a person preparing an act of terrorism (Terrorism Act 2000).

•    The pair were found to have conducted ‘multiple reconnaissance’ trips of Jewish sites in Manchester.

Context

•    Part of the the Khans’ radicalisation took place through the internet between 2010 and 2011, where they accessed lectures and videos produced by the late al-Qaeda cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki.

•    Among the publications used by the couple was Inspire magazine, a quarterly publication produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

•    Inspire has long been a cause of concern to Western security agencies because of the relative success it has enjoyed in winning recruits. Made with slick production values, the online magazine resonates with Western Muslims by employing cultural reference points of familiarity. Coupled with this is a hard jihadist edge which seeks to normalise terrorist activity while also educating readers about how to produce simple and effective homemade bombs. Bomb making instructions appear in almost every edition of the magazine under a feature titled ‘Open Source Jihad’.

•    Inspire has been linked to a number of terrorist plots, including Manhattan resident Jose Pimentel’s plan to detonate homemade pipe bombs in New York. Significantly, Pimentel was following a bomb making recipe outlined in Inspire.  In the UK, a group of four British Muslims recently admitted to planning an attack on the London Stock Exchange. They were also in possession of Inspire magazine, and were devotees of Awlaki’s work.

•    Inspire makes repeated references to targeting Jews. Its editions frequently carry incendiary articles about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and often prophesise a jihadist ‘march on Jerusalem’.

•    AQAP, which produces Inspire, launched the ‘Cargo Planes Bomb Plot’ in October 2010. This consisted of planting explosives in computer equipment before mailing it to addresses in the United States. They were addressed to Jewish targets.

Legacy

•    The primary ideologue for most self-radicalised Western Muslims is Anwar al-Awlaki. A charismatic speaker who grew up in the West, Awlaki was capable of connecting with, and appreciating the challenges faced by, diaspora Muslims questioning their identity.

•    He has been directly linked to scores of terrorist attacks in the United States, Britain, and Europe. For an authoritative account, see ICSR publication As American as Apple Pie.

•    Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike last year, although plots such as this demonstrate that his legacy endures. His lectures continue to be widely available online, ensuring his ideas will live on long after his death. Indeed, the work of influential jihadist ideologues such as Abdullah Azzam and Sayid Qutb took on greater significance within the jihad movement following their deaths.  ICSR’s forthcoming publication, Al-Qaeda at the Crossroads, will explore this idea in greater depth.

•    It was thought that Inspire magazine might cease production after its chief architect, Samir Khan, was killed alongside Awlaki. Since his death, however, two subsequent editions of the magazine have appeared, with the latest one boasting that its continued production is not dependent on Khan.