American Morning

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November 11th, 2009
06:15 AM ET

A new, hipper kind of extremist

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Who is Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Yemeni cleric, who called the alleged Fort Hood shooter Nadal Hasan a "hero?" And could he inspire young men in the United States to commit violent acts in the name of their religion?

Some experts say al-Awlaki represents a new kind of terrorist: charismatic, young, soft-spoken and Facebook-savvy. They describe him as a "low-key" extremist, not known for fiery rhetoric.

On Facebook, al-Awlaki has more than 5,000 friends. American-born, fluent in English, his influence in the West should not be discounted, says Jarret Brachman, author of "Global Jihadism," and an adviser to the government on terrorism.

"A lot of guys in the United States read al-Awlaki's work. They watch his videos they listen to his sermons," says Brachman. "His personality's very engaging, very candid, you know he's playful, he's got a great sense of humor," he adds. "The guy is very appealing to people who are kind of dipping their toes into, into radicalism."

He's been on law enforcement's radar for years, says Brachman: "He can take you all the way to al Qaeda – that's the concerning part about him."

Before leaving the U.S. seven years ago, al-Awlaki served as imam at mosques in Colorado, California and Virginia – the latter where, according to the 9/11 Commission, he had contact with two of the 9/11 hijackers.

"He was young, handsome," said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church. "Has the benefit of English without an accent, and who also is proficient in the Arabic language."

But after 9/11, Imam Johari says, al-Awlaki grew angry at the way Muslim-Americans were treated by authorities. He left for Yemen in 2002, telling his friends, "'This is not an environment for teaching Islam or preaching Islam. I'd rather go someplace else. I'd rather go back to Yemen,'" Imam Johari recalled him saying. "'I can go back or teach, or have a TV show.'"

But Imam Johari believes that after al-Awlaki was jailed in Yemen, he became radicalized, with a growing following. His views became unrecognizable to those who knew him in the United States. "What he is saying from wherever he is in Yemen, to his minions, is that it is not only legitimate to kill Americans, that's the message that most people got, but that it is also permissible to kill American Muslims."

Filed under: Controversy
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. ronvan

    All these radical, hate mongers, are using our "freedoms" and right of free speach, to tear our country apart from within. I try to keep an open mind and respect others views and beleifs, however, Muslums need to get it together! It is the radical Muslums, that have perverted their religion for their own personal hate, but those good Muslums seem content to just sit back and remain quiet.

    November 12, 2009 at 9:02 am |
  2. Julie

    I saw how these radicals are not only in the UK but, here, When are the good muslims going to step up and squash these embeciles?

    It would be just the same if these wacko hitler groups were allowed to flourish. They came here wanting their "free speach", we put up tarps around where they were supposed to go, with police with rifles, and deterrred traffic away from the site. NOPE THEY DECIDED NOT TO COME. The police were there to save the nutballs from other people that were opposed to these guys. We chased them out of here.

    When these radicals come out to try to recruite more wackos, they actually create more hate for the whole dang religion. Shea law, are they kidding? These people think women in the UK or America are going to be hidden in some Halloween costume all year round? Subject to some subserviant male domimation? Give me a break. UK and Americans should ban all these weird dress codes, Heck ole Bin Laden or one of these "girly men" could be dressed as a woman and have a gun or bomb underneath.
    The more I hear about religion, the more I am opposed to all man made religions.

    November 12, 2009 at 7:49 am |
  3. hongli

    All Muslim mosques should be "wire – tapped" and screened carefully. The radicals are like angels in the day and devils at night. You just have to be "AWARE" at all times and the key word "ALL".

    November 11, 2009 at 9:18 am |