Wooing Recruits To Radical Islam Like 'Dating' NPR News Investigation: A former member of the radical Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir explains the psychology and tactics of enticing new recruits. Although he never met Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bombing suspect, Shiraz Maher recruited people like him.

Wooing Recruits To Radical Islam Like 'Dating'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123846214/123860014" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: NPR reported that one of the men involved in the 2007 attack on Glasgow's airport was a member of an Islamist group called Hizb ut-Tahrir. While that man did spend time with the group and attended its recruiting sessions, he was not a formal member. In an e-mail, Hizb ut-Tahrir told NPR that it does not condone violence in any way.


This week, we're airing an NPR News investigation about the life of the suspected Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. And today, we continue our series "Going Radical" with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.

She visited a mosque that Abdulmutallab attended when he lived in London. She was joined on that visit by a former member of a radical Islamist group who used to recruit at the same mosque. He took her on a recruiter's tour to explain how it's done.

Mr. SHIRAZ MAHER (Former Member, Hizb ut-Tahrir): My name is Shiraz Maher. I used to be a member of a radical Islamist organization called Hizb ut-Tahrir. I was within the organization for four years. And during that time, I ran their operations in the northeast of England.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Maher and I met several blocks from the Regent's Park Mosque. The goal was to understand how a recruiter might convince a young man like the Christmas Day bombing suspect to embrace radical Islam. Maher used to be a recruiter. Just to be clear, he and Abdulmutallab never met. But he knew people like him. Maher looks like a graduate student, with a short goatee and dark-framed glasses.

Mr. MAHER: We are entering now the Regent's Park Mosque.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There's a guard at the gate. He waves to me to cover my head before we go any further. The mosque is enormous. There is a large courtyard out front, and it's surrounded on three sides by low buildings. A gold dome and minaret loom overhead. Abdulmutallab used to come to this mosque for evening prayers, starting in late 2005. Maher was here the year before that, on a very important night in the Muslim calendar: the night Muslims believe the Quran was revealed.

Mr. MAHER: The mosque was absolutely jam-packed. In fact, the worshipers were flowing out into this courtyard.

TEMPLE-RASTON: As the crowd grew, members of his group began making fiery, anti-American speeches.

Mr. MAHER: There was a lot of anger, a lot of - sort of chanting and sloganing, and essential recruiting as well.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Can you talk to me about how that process works?

Mr. MAHER: On an event like that, what you would do is you'd have your speakers giving their talks, but the crowd would be filled with members. And they would be speaking to other people, assessing who is just there to listen but doesn't agree, and who is there who is listening - and who's also getting increasingly interested.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So that would be the first step: identifying possible recruits - people who are joining in the chanting, people who seem angry.

Mr. MAHER: Once you identify people who are interested, you take their numbers, you find out, you know, where they live, and you begin a very strong, personal, one-to-one cultivation. Usually, they were able to turn people around within three to four weeks, assess where they were at.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's the second step: the assessment. Recruiters look for people who not only embrace the ideas of political Islam, but also show a willingness to act on them. For someone like Abdulmutallab, simply knowing a great deal about the Quran would not have been enough. There has to be that political component.

Maher and I left the courtyard and went inside the mosque. He lowered his voice so people wouldn't overhear us.

Mr. MAHER: So we're just entering the main public prayer hall. Now, it's just in front of us. I sit in men's section. But every Saturday, if you go into the main prayer hall, on the left-hand side, after mid-day prayers, people of Tahrir will have a public speak. When I was part of the organization 2003-2004, on a Saturday, you could get 300-odd people turning up, so...

TEMPLE-RASTON: And the talks would be about...

Mr. MAHER: Always political, always political, nothing else.

TEMPLE-RASTON: As a general matter, new recruits aren't indoctrinated in mosques. Recruiters find them in prayer halls and then take them elsewhere.

Mr. MAHER: You take details down and then after you've taken those details, you do address them away from the mosque. It's almost like the Western equivalent of going to a nightclub, getting the girl's number and then dating her - but away from that place because you don't want anyone else to move in on your turf, basically.

TEMPLE-RASTON: We left the quiet of the mosque, and went back out onto the street. Maher tried to explain why Abdulmutallab might have been lured into joining violent jihad.

Mr. MAHER: I mean, I always say it's very seductive, you know. When I was running the north, I was 21, 22.


Mr. MAHER: I was youngest guy there. You know, there were guys in their 40s, with three or four kids. And I told them what to do, and they would listen.


Mr. MAHER: And that's hugely powerful.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Abdulmutallab's friends in London say he was quiet and isolated. Maher says that would have made him attractive to recruiters.

Mr. MAHER: When you're starting to feel alienated from society, radical Islam gives you a great outlet and release from it because radical Islam says, that's fine, because Islam can never be at home and comfortable within the West. And therefore, the more upset you feel, the better Muslim you're becoming because these two things can never mix.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Maher says his group doesn't get involved with terrorist attacks. But some of its former members, even people Maher was close to, have been linked to violence. He was recruiting at Regent's Park Mosque in 2004 with one of them.

Mr. MAHER: The guy who attempted to bomb Glasgow Airport about three years later was here that evening with me. We drove down from Cambridge together.

TEMPLE-RASTON: In that 2007 Glasgow Airport attack, terrorists drove a Jeep Cherokee filled with propane tanks into the airport terminal. Maher's friend survived the attack. He is now serving a 32-year prison sentence. Officials aren't certain when Abdulmutallab crossed the line, and decided to mix Islam and violence. But he has allegedly told the FBI that he saw himself as a warrior for God.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

SIEGEL: Tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, we follow Abdulmutallab on his journey after London, to Yemen.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.