Aim: To shed light on al-Qaeda’s efforts to recruit Muslims in the English-speaking world.
This project will address the phenomenon of English-speaking jihadist ideologues and examine the ways in which such figures tailor their messages – in sermons, pamphlets, tracts, and speeches (usually through the internet) – to attract and mobilise Western Muslim audiences.
It will focus primarily on three of the most prominent English-speaking jihadist ideologues in recent times. Their prominence is determined by the fact that all three of them have been linked to Westerners engaged or attempting to engage in violent extremism and, in some cases, have been seen as the inspiration behind terrorist attacks.
The first figure under consideration is Anwar al-Awlaki, arguably al-Qaeda’s most important theoretician until his death in September 2011 and the first US citizen to be placed on the CIA-targeted ‘kill list’. Both the alleged perpetrators of the shootings at the Fort Hood military base (Major Nidal Hasan) and the failed 2010 bomb attack in Time Square, New York City (Faisal Shahzad) are reported to have been at least partly inspired by al-Awlaki. Indeed, al-Awlaki had a long pedigree as a jihadist cleric and has been linked to three of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national who was arrested trying to detonate an explosive device on board a flight to Detroit on 25 December 2009.
The second figure to be analysed will be Omar Hammami, along with the English-language propaganda he has helped formulate for al-Shabaab. Having joined al-Shabaab in late 2006, he made his first public appearance as the American face of the group in an October 2007 interview with al-Jazeera.
Since then, he has become among the most popular English-speaking Salafi-jihadis, and his rallying call to join al-Shabaab has been answered by dozens of British and American Somalis. He is considered by the FBI to be one of the main inspirations for the significant number of American Somalis who are known to have travelled to Somalia in order to join the militia, and it is feared that they will soon be tasked with returning to their home countries to carry out attacks there.
The third figure whose publications and pronouncements is Abdullah al-Faisal, another exemplar of the English-speaking jihadist ideologue. Like al-Awlaki, al-Faisal has been linked to Faisal Shahzad. He is said to have influenced the 2001 ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid, 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and Germain Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers responsible for the London Metro attacks of July 2005. In 2003, al-Faisal was convicted of soliciting murder in the UK and deported from the country after serving his sentence. According to the NYPD’s Madelaine Gruen, he ‘has a proven track record of radicalising and inciting young [Western] Muslims to violence’ and continues to preach from Jamaica.
Both al-Awlaki, Hammami and al-Faisal have produced a wealth of written, audio, and visual material on the subject of jihad, directly and intentionally targeted at Western Muslim audiences. Awlaki’s and Hammami’s messages are shaped by their experience and knowledge of the US, whereas much of al-Faisal’s activity has taken place in the UK, where he gained residency rights following his marriage to a UK citizen.
To this point, however, there has been no substantive academic research or exegesis which explores and analyses the vast output of these individuals and their associates, from publications and tape recordings to frequent posts on internet portals such as Facebook and Youtube. This project is intended to fill the gap in the existing literature and make sense of the message propagated by English-speaking jihadists.
The report on this project, ‘As American As Apple Pie: How Anwar al-Awlaki Became the Face of Western Jihad’ by ICSR Research Fellow Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is available here.