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American Editor Brings U.S. Savvy To Jihad Outreach

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American Editor Brings U.S. Savvy To Jihad Outreach

American Editor Brings U.S. Savvy To Jihad Outreach

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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All this week, NPR News is looking at major figures in terrorism who have something in common: terrorists who are essentially made in America. They're either U.S. citizens or long-time residents.


Today we hear about a young man from North Carolina named Samir Khan. He's writing for al-Qaida's new online magazine out of Yemen.

INSKEEP: In the latest issue, which came out just yesterday, Khan writes the cover story entitled, quote, "I Am Proud to Be a Traitor to America." NPR's Dina Temple-Raston tracks Khan's road from America to al-Qaida.-

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: When al-Qaida's arm in Yemen released an online English language magazine this summer, the news was all over the airwaves in Charlotte, North Carolina.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Unidentified Man: Where Charlotte comes to talk.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KEITH LARSON (Radio Talk Show Host): Samir Khan, Charlotte's very own...

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's radio talk show host Keith Larson of WBT in Charlotte. And the magazine was such a hot topic because the man behind it was a local Charlotte resident, a 24-year-old named Samir Khan.

Mr. LARSON: This website magazine, Internet recruiting glorifying thing for al-Qaida, is run by - and it's funny to read the, you know, network or wire stories - a former North Carolina man who moved to Yemen - but it turns out it's Samir Khan. U.S. officials say it is for real and they're concerned about it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Authorities were concerned because the magazine seemed so American. It's written in colloquial English. It has jazzy headlines and articles that make it seem almost mainstream, except it's about terrorism. "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" reads one headline. Unsure what to pack when you leave for jihad? The magazine provides readers with a list.

Officials say Khan had a hand in the magazine because its articles track very closely with articles that Khan had published a couple of years ago, when he launched a pro-al-Qaida blog. He launched that website right after he moved from New York to North Carolina. He was still a teenager and his father had just been transferred to Charlotte.

So I went to see the house where the family lived.

(Soundbite of lawnmower)

TEMPLE-RASTON: Tradition View Drive is a side street in a relatively new subdivision off I-85. All the houses have two and three-car garages with columns bookending front doors and lawn services that turn each yard into a neatly manicured expanse of green.

(Soundbite of lawnmower)

TEMPLE-RASTON: In his parents' basement here, Samir Khan created one of the most popular al-Qaida websites on the Internet. It got thousands of hits a day. He called it InshallahShaheed, or a martyr if it's God's will, and it appeared in late 2003. Samir Khan railed against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. SAMIR KHAN: The American occupiers, they're disbelievers, and every disbeliever will go to hellfire according to the book of Allah.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Khan during an interview with the New York Times three years ago.

Mr. KHAN: I know that this is something that America would never want to admit. They would never want to admit that they are being crushed.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Friends remember Khan as a teenager who was awkward, shy and spoke with a stammer. They also recall someone who arrived in Charlotte already radicalized.

Mr. ADAM AZAD: I remember we went to eat at this place called Wolfman Pizza. He was sort of talking to me about his ideas on some things.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Adam Azad. He met Samir Khan when he moved to North Carolina.

Mr. AZAD: I thought he was a little over-zealous.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Overzealous because he kept asking questions about the local mosque. He got mad when Azad told him the sermons didn't dwell on politics, American wars overseas, or the fate of Islam.

Mr. AZAD: He was kind of critical. Like, why don't they talk more about injustices that are going on around the world and stuff like that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Azad was a bit older than Khan and tried to counsel him.

Mr. AZAD: I remember the exact thing I said to him: I said, you know, Samir, in this world you cannot just take a hard and cold stance on everything.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And what his response to that?

Mr. AZAD: He was quiet. I mean, I can tell that he wasn't very receptive to what I was saying.

TEMPLE-RASTON: People who knew Samir Khan said in retrospect it was clear that he arrived in North Carolina with a plan for how he wanted to spread his radical message. Within weeks of moving to Charlotte, Khan hired a local lawyer. He wanted the lawyer to tell him about the First Amendment. How far could he go on a website without running afoul of the law? And the lawyer laid out what to do in a memo. Basically he could say anything he wanted as long as he didn't incite violence. And intelligence officials say he followed that advice.

Mr. ALI KHAN (Teacher): For him to take shade under the Constitution or to go to a disbelieving lawyer and ask for his help kind of contradicts the entire struggle inside the ideological worldview that he claims to live by.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Norman Ali Khan was a teacher at a mosque in New York City. Samir Khan was his student. He was surprised that Khan thought to go to a lawyer.

Mr. A. KAHN: It is a pretty savvy move, and I don't think it's one that he thought of himself. I wouldn't be convinced of that. I think it took some convincing for him to do that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So you think someone else put him up to it?

Mr. KAHN: That's what I think. I don't think that he did that himself.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Whoever gave him the idea to go to a lawyer, Samir Kahn went ahead and published his website and blog. And he managed to stay on the correct side of that fine line. He posted gory photographs of dead American soldiers in Iraq. He cheered setbacks in Afghanistan. As the Muslim community in Charlotte became aware of Khan's blog, members of the local mosque decided to intervene.

Jibril Hough was one of the people in North Carolina who tried to counsel Samir Khan.

Mr. JIBRIL HOUGH: In Islam, we're told to support our brothers, whether they're right or wrong - and how do you support them if they are wrong? Well, you hold their hand or you try to correct them if they're wrong.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So he brought together elders of the mosque into a kind of intervention, a group that tried to convince Samir Khan to distance himself from radical Islam. That's what makes this part of the story so unusual. The Muslim community took action.

They gathered at Jibril Hough's house and invited Samir and his father to join them. They sat in a circle and talked for hours about what they saw as Samir's fundamental misunderstanding of the religion. And they tried to get him to talk to them.

Mr. HOUGH: He mostly just listened. I think at one time during the conversation he tried to give some kind of justification for killing innocent people, but it was a very short rebuttal. And that's why it kind of gave me the idea that we were making progress, because he wasn't giving us a lot of argument.

TEMPLE-RASTON: But the intervention didn't work. Samir had something else in mind. A short time later, he started telling people at the local mosque that he was going to go to Yemen to learn Arabic and teach English. Samir Khan boarded a flight to Yemen last October. Al-Qaida's Inspire Magazine was published six months later.

His decision to make that trip has taken a toll on Charlotte's Muslim community. Samir's friends have been questioned by the FBI. His father's friends say he seems so beaten down by events, they don't even ask him about his son. As for Samir Khan, a grand jury has convened to consider terrorism charges against him.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And we continue our reporting this week on terror suspects made in America. Tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, we'll look at a group that may have guided Samir Khan on his path of radicalization.

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