The Blog

Colonel Mustard Is Not A Jihadist

Dahlia Lithwick gets Abdulmutallab's story wrong.

12:00 AM, Jan 12, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In my piece Al Qaeda’s Trojan Horse, I pointed to several reports coming out of the British press connecting Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (UFA) to former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and Begg’s organization, Cage Prisoners. The British press first noted that Begg and one of his colleagues were invited to speak at a conference put on by the Islamic Society at the University College of London in early 2007. Abdulmutallab was president of the Islamic Society at the time.

Colonel Mustard Is Not A Jihadist

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

One of the arguments I made in the piece was that some on the left have a difficult time identifying or understanding jihadists. There is such a rush to embrace the anti-American arguments made by men such as Begg that the press makes little attempt to investigate their backgrounds and stories even when they are demonstrable liars. This is dangerous because Begg is not just an anti-American propagandist. According to a copious record produced by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, Begg has sponsored and trained with terrorist groups in the past and actively supported a known al Qaeda cleric on a number of occasions. (Begg was released from Gitmo over the objections of the entire national security establishment.)

Writing for Slate last week, Dahlia Lithwick took exception to my piece. In the process, Lithwick exposed her own ignorance, and also made my point for me. Lithwick likened any attempt to connect former Gitmo detainees to Abdulmutallab to a game of Clue, and concluded that the possibility of Colonel Mustard being involved was “equally plausible.”

In other words, Lithwick cannot tell the difference between real-life jihadists who endorse and sponsor terrorist violence and fictional characters. 

Although Lithwick does not challenge any of the facts and evidence I cited, there are some noteworthy omissions and errors in Lithwick’s piece.  

First, notice that the name “Anwar al Awlaki” (or “Aulaqi”) does not appear in Lithwick’s attempt at a rebuttal. Yet, as I discuss in my piece, it was Begg’s support of Anwar al Awlaki and, in turn, Awlaki’s “blessing” of Abdulmutallab’s attack that is especially noteworthy.

Anwar al Awlaki is now a widely known al Qaeda cleric. He should have been well-known since at least the September 11 attacks. Awlaki was a “spiritual advisor” to at least two of the 9/11 hijackers, counseled the Fort Hood Shooter, and inspired untold numbers of jihadists to fight American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of all this, Abdulmutallab reportedly received Awlaki’s counsel while visiting Yemen. For all these reasons, and more, Awlaki is currently the subject of a massive manhunt and has been targeted by airstrikes.

For their part, Begg and his ilk at Cage Prisoners have: lobbied for Awlaki’s freedom when he was briefly detained in Yemen, conducted favorable interviews with Awlaki (Begg personally conducted the interviews), broadcast Awlaki’s propaganda in the UK, and published Awlaki’s jihadist writings on the Cage Prisoners’ web site. 

So, it is natural to ask, as I did and as the investigators in the UK currently are: Is there more to the relationship between Awlaki, Begg, and Abdulmutallab?  I don’t know the answer and neither does Lithwick.

But Lithwick would rather not pursue an answer. Instead, she thinks this is all about protecting Begg’s right to free “speech,” so he can talk about his “experiences” at Gitmo even though my piece was all about asking if there was more (like Awlaki) to the connection between Abdulmutallab and Begg than that.

It is worth noting that the normally permissive British authorities also disagree with Lithwick’s take. Begg is still free to tell his story (which, by the way, is a complete anti-American fabrication). But British authorities have prohibited Begg and Cage Prisoners from broadcasting Awlaki’s appearances via video.    

Second, Lithwick mischaracterizes what I wrote. She writes, “Even more frightening than the attempt to connect the Christmas bomber with Begg is Joscelyn's argument that Begg radicalized him by way of lectures and videos.”

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers