The Magazine

Tarheel Jihadist

The two faces of Daniel Patrick Boyd.

Aug 31, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 46 • By DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS
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A few Raleigh-area Muslims had spoken to the press before my visit, prompting the News & Observer to claim that "anyone who knows Boyd in the context of his faith agrees that he was extreme." Bosnian immigrant Jasmin Smajic told the paper Boyd "often talked of jihad."

I interviewed at length one active local Muslim who knows Boyd well. "It's hard to dispute anything in the indictment," this source said.

The reverence with which Boyd's neighbor Jeremy spoke of him brought to mind the claim in the indictment that some of the defendants had "radicalized others, mostly young Muslims or converts to Islam, to believe that violent jihad was a personal obligation on the part of every good Muslim." The Muslim source with whom I spoke extensively confirmed that Boyd was quite sociable and liked by young people. Noting that the young men indicted along with him came from "dysfunctional homes," this source said they developed a bond with Boyd and saw him as a father figure.

The source, moreover, saw much more of Boyd's political views and religious ideology than his neighbors did, describing him as having "very strong feelings" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "He believed in jihad," the source said, adding that Boyd's time in Afghanistan was his "entry card," something he would use to gain street cred in certain circles.

The source's view of Boyd aligns with some of the statements he made while under investigative surveillance, as revealed in the government's exhibits during his detention hearing. Boyd was recorded speaking of the need for jihad and claimed that Muslims who "think it is all right to just sit here, chill in America, make some money" are "tripping and have left Islam." This is the takfiri view: that those with a different opinion of armed combat have left the true faith and become apostates.

Boyd's exhortations to jihad are scattered throughout the government recordings that have been made public. Ironically, he told one government witness that "if you live amongst the kufar [nonbelievers] and they are comfortable with you, you have left Islam."

If Boyd held extremist beliefs, that does not make him a terrorist. Nor is holding such beliefs illegal. The government's surveillance does reveal plenty of suspicious behavior: The defendants tried to ensure that their conversations were not being monitored, spoke in code, discussed their desire to rob banks and support the mujahedeen, and implied that they were on the verge of a great mission. But the indictment does not make clear what actions they actually planned. The News & Observer reported that FBI Special Agent Michael Sutton, when cross-examined at the detention proceeding, could not name specific targets.

The government always faces a dilemma in terrorism cases: When to make an arrest? If it waits too long, the suspects may strike. But if it apprehends suspects in the talking stage of a plot, they "can claim that they were only talking and never had serious intentions," wrote terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins in his Unconquerable Nation. Expect to hear that argument from the defense if the Boyd case goes to trial.

Perhaps in part because of concerns about this defense argument, the government also brought a number of lesser charges against Boyd, including firearms violations and false statements to federal authorities. As the case proceeds, it will be interesting to watch the government's theory unfold as to what Boyd and his cohorts were planning--and to try to discern why the authorities decided to move in July, rather than waiting to gather more evidence. Given his neighbors' trusting attitude, Boyd probably thought he was in little danger of being found out.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the director of the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
He is a coauthor of Terrorism in the West 2008 (FDD Press).