Five young Muslim American men were arrested in Pakistan yesterday after police raided a house with alleged ties to Islamic militants, according to various media reports. Their discovery in Pakistan yesterday is one more piece of evidence that radicalized American Muslims are traveling overseas for training in their desire to wage jihad.
The men, ranging in age from their late teens to their mid 20s, vanished from their Northern Virginia suburbs in late November. When they arrived in Pakistan, according to The New York Times, the five men went searching for extremist contacts in an effort to reach Afghanistan and fight U.S.-led forces.
After touching down in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, the men tried to join an extremist Islamic school near Karachi and approached another extremist organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, in the eastern city of Lahore, the officials said.
They were rebuffed in both places because of their Western demeanor and the fact that they did not speak the national language, Urdu, an investigator said. They then came here, to Sargodha, a city in the north of Punjab Province, en route to North Waziristan, said the police chief of Sargodha, Usman Anwar.
The men were arrested at the home of an uncle of the eldest of the group, Umer Farooq, 25. Farooq's parents were also in the house during the raid and his father, Khalid, was also arrested. He is alleged to have ties with Jaish-e-Mohammed, an outlawed militant group fighting for the disputed territory of Kashmir with India, and also knew his son was wanted by the FBI, reports the Times.
The men's plans were ultimately broken up by their families in the United States, who reported that their sons may have traveled to Pakistan to wage jihad after one family found a farewell video message with bloody scenes of war and a declaration that Muslims had to be defended, reports The Associated Press. The families sought the counsel of the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim-American advocacy group, which in turn put the families in contact with the FBI.
CNN.com reports that a law enforcement officer said none of the five men were on law enforcement's radar before their families came forward. This may be another indicator that al Qaeda and likeminded jihadists are trying to recruit "clean skins"—men with no criminal records or ties to terrorism that are comfortable in Western settings—as al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen has argued.
The young men's radicalization process seems to have one common similarity with other cases of Westernized Muslims turned jihadists: the Internet. Sargodha's police chief, Usman Anwar, described the group's online activities to the Times.
The five men bonded together in the jihadi cause, watching jihadist video clips on YouTube that showed attacks by the Taliban on allied forces in Afghanistan, he said. The group also maintained a common e-mail address, Chief Anwar said. Employing a technique widely used among militants, they left their comments in the “draft” box of the e-mail address so that they could all easily read the comments.
The men appeared to have come to the attention of “Saifullah” — an Islamic militant with links to Al Qaeda — through their YouTube activities, the police chief said.
The arrests come just days after the Department of Justice brought additional charges against David C. Headley, 49, a Chicago businessman who federal authorities say helped plot the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Headley was already in custody for planning to attack a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Other recent cases have also ratcheted up the concern that Muslim Americans are increasingly open to jihadist radicalization. In September, Najibullah Zazi, a Denver airport shuttle bus driver, was arrested for plotting to strike the United States, probably New York City, with homemade hydrogen-peroxide-based bombs. Zazi had traveled to Pakistan for explosives training, according to the FBI.
Federal law enforcement is also concerned about radicalization within the Somali community of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where approximately 20 young men have been recruited to fight for an Islamist militia that is trying to wrestle control of the country away from a weak U.N.-backed central government. In October 2008, Minneapolis resident Shirwa Ahmed blew himself up in a terrorist attack in Somalia. He is considered the first American suicide bomber in history.
The rash of these cases has led counterterrorism experts to reexamine their belief that American Muslims are more immune to jihadist radicalization than European Muslims, reports The Wall Street Journal.
♦ Photo of U.S. soldier in Afghanistan by U.S. Army/Flickr