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Al Shabaab Effectively Recruits Americans

Homegrown terrorists.

3:37 PM, Aug 10, 2010 • By CHRIS HARNISCH and KATHERINE ZIMMERMAN
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Despite the concerted efforts of the FBI and other counterterrorism agencies, the ability of al Shabaab and other groups in the global jihad network to recruit individuals has increased significantly over the past few years. Al Shabaab is not the only international terrorist organization that has attempted to recruit Westerners into its ranks. Recently, Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s media arm, the al Malahem Foundation, released al Qaeda’s first official English-language publication, a lengthy magazine it called Inspire.  The magazine encourages Westerners to carry out small-scale attacks, provides basic instruction on how to make a bomb, and offers instructions on how to join the group in Yemen. 

The American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al Awlaki wrote the feature article in that magazine. Both Chesser and Masri, the two individuals arrested for attempting to join al Shabaab, have mentioned Awlaki’s influence on their beliefs.  Awlaki’s English-language messages have the ability to reach and inspire aspiring militants nestled into Western societies.  Awlaki is the first known American citizen to have been placed on the CIA’s “capture or kill” list, and the U.S. Treasury Department and UN recently placed him on their respective terrorist lists for his leadership role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Efforts by al Shabaab and other al Qaeda-affiliated organizations to attract Americans into their ranks only multiply the threat posed by such groups.  Al Qaeda and its associated movements appear to have made the recruitment of Americans and Westerners a top priority in their overall strategy.  American recruits increase the likelihood of a group’s ability to strike abroad because of the access that American passports allow to international targets.  Further, American recruits can identify and provide insight on targets inside the U.S., as revealed by the Pakistani Taliban’s decision to let the Times Square Bomber – an American citizen – choose his own target.  Finally, American recruits have the ability to enhance a group’s propaganda efforts and attract even more English-speakers.  The counterterrorism community has demonstrated its ability this past month to track and apprehend aspiring American terrorists, but, unfortunately, the terrorist groups have ramped up their efforts to attract even more Western recruits.            

Chris Harnisch and Katherine Zimmerman are analysts for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

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