Grand Jury Focuses On N.C. Man Tied To Jihad Magazine
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A federal grand jury in Charlotte has convened to consider terrorism charges against a North Carolina man. NPR has learned that the grand jury is investigating 24-year-old Samir Khan; he is a naturalized American citizen. He is suspected of producing an online English language magazine for al-Qaida's arm in Yemen.
The magazine is called Inspire. And authorities worry that it could inspire young Muslims in this country to join terrorist groups.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports from Charlotte.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Late last summer, Samir Khan began telling people at the mosque here that he was going to Yemen.
Mr. ADAM AZAD: He told me that he had a prospect of going to Yemen to teach English in the university there, while simultaneously learning Arabic.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Adam Azad. Azad met Khan when he first moved to North Carolina nine years ago.
Mr. AZAD: He was more of an acquaintance than a friend, really. I met him at the mosque, as I've met many people.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Muslims here in Charlotte are careful when they talk about Samir Khan. That's because over the past several weeks, FBI agents have been showing up on doorsteps all over town asking a lot of questions. Six young men from the Charlotte area told NPR that agents interviewed them, and several of them received grand jury subpoenas. Among the questions asked: whether Khan ever mentioned going to Yemen so he could join a terrorist group and target Americans.
Mr. AZAD: They were asking for more information than it would be reasonable for any person to know about this guy.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Again, Adam Azad.
Mr. AZAD: First of all, if Samir was going to go for a purpose to harm Americans overseas, he certainly would not make those intentions public.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Sources close to the case tell NPR the grand jury convened yesterday. The FBI, for its part, declined to confirm or deny there is an investigation. Among the charges the grand jury is considering: material support to a terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder overseas. It will likely take weeks before any charges could be brought.
Samir Khan first came to the attention of law enforcement as a blogger. Before he left for Yemen, he ran a pro-al-Qaida website out of his parents' basement. It praised Osama bin Laden. It provided links to violent jihadi videos and clips of U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan. The blog was protected by the first amendment. But Azad said the content of Khan's blog rattled local Muslims.
Mr. AZAD: Samir was more infamous than famous in the Muslim community. I just remember people saying that, oh my God, I can't believe he has that on his blog.
Mr. JAMIL HOUGH (Spokesman, Islamic Center): He had very few friends - I think only one or two friends. So, it wasn't like he had a following here locally.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Jamil Hough is the spokesman for the Islamic Center in Charlotte.
Mr. HOUGH: We were actively involved trying to correct him, not encourage him and not produce him.
TEMPLE-RASTON: But those community efforts had little effect. Intelligence sources say Khan was radicalized before he arrived here. They believed it happened in New York. He flew to Yemen last October and then disappeared. Months later, al-Qaida in Yemen released Inspire magazine - it's like a Cosmo magazine for jihadis: what to pack for jihad, how to make a bomb in your mother's kitchen sink. The tone is irreverent but catchy, and very American and very Samir Khan, say officials.
Representative SUE MYRICK (Republican, North Carolina): I'm Sue Myrick and I represent North Carolina District 9 in Congress.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Myrick says she warned the FBI about Khan years ago and the FBI missed a key moment in his radicalization when he contacted al-Qaida in Yemen to offer himself up as a recruit.
Rep. MYRICK: Now, al-Qaida just doesn't take you into their midst if they don't know who you are.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Intelligence officials now say Khan's al-Qaida patron was Anwar al-Awlaki. He's the same U.S.-born radical cleric linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the Christmas Day airliner attack. They say he invited Samir Khan to Yemen and he went.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Charlotte, North Carolina.
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