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A Real Weapon Of Mass Destruction: Islamist Exploitation Of Urban Unrest In America

By George Michael

In recent months, urban unrest has wreaked America stemming from several high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality toward minorities. First, on July 17, 2014, police arrested an African-American man, Eric Garner, for the unauthorized sale of cigarettes on a street in New York City. While Garner resisted arrest, police sought to detain him in either a chokehold or a headlock (depending on different eyewitness accounts) and soon thereafter, he died in an ambulance en route to a hospital. The next month, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an unarmed 18-year old man, Michael Brown.

According to Wilson's version of events, the 6'4", 292-pound Brown had punched him in the face and went for his gun. Just minutes before the fatal altercation, Brown assaulted a clerk in a strong-armed robbery in a nearby convenience store. And on November 21, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a police officer in Cleveland after receiving a call about a man wielding a gun near a recreation center. After the shooting, it transpired that Rice had in his possession a pellet gun which closely resembled an authentic firearm. Finally, in April 2015, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man with a lengthy criminal record, died from injuries he sustained while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department.

According to an Associated Press annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors, the police killings of unarmed Black men and the tumultuous protests that ensued was the top story of 2014. The mainstream media often depicted these killings as a consequence of deep-seated racism in the ranks of the police and the unlawful profiling of minorities. Similarly, high-ranking public officials decried the actions of the police as well. For example, U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, stated that the policing in Ferguson required "wholesale change," while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio angered members of his police department after he expressed sympathy for the demonstrators. This harsh criticism notwithstanding, grand juries in both Ferguson and New York decided not to indict the police officers involved in these incidents.

Some critics blamed the media for exacerbating an already tense situation with inflammatory and divisive rhetoric. This was tragically illustrated on December 20, 2014, when 28-year old Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot two police officers to death in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. In an internet posting earlier that same day he exclaimed that he was preparing to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown: "They Take 1 Of Ours…Let's take 2 of Theirs." (Ironically, the two officers were racial and ethnic minorities: Wenjian Liu, an Asian-American, was a seven-year veteran of the police force and his partner, Rafael Ramos, was a Latino who began his career in the New York Police Department as a school safety agent but had been promoted to officer in 2012.)

The spate of recent police shootings of African-American men has polarized the country. In January of 2015, a branch of the New Black Panther Party announced that it was forming a paramilitary group in Dallas to protect African-Americans from police brutality as expressed on the organization's website: "No longer will we let the pigs slaughter our brothers and sisters and not say a damn thing about it." In Cleveland, representatives of the notorious prison gang, the Heartless Felons, gave orders for its members to kill white police officers to avenge the lives of slain Black men at the hands of the police.

Disturbingly, there are indications that that the protests and violence might be spurring a counter-mobilization. For example, in August, representatives of the New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan announced plans to travel to Ferguson to protect white businesses near areas affected by the riots. Likewise, members of the Oath Keepers-a militia-style organization-guarded rooftops on apartments and businesses in downtown Ferguson. Although characterized as right-wing and conspiratorial in outlook, the group's membership spills across racial and regional lines. Some Ferguson residents voiced support for the Oath Keepers, saying that they felt safer as a result of their presence. Local police, however, threatened members of the group with arrest, thus forcing them to abandon their positions.

Undermining the Social Fabric of America
In such a highly-charged atmosphere, could outside parties exploit racial tensions in America? Learning from the chaos that convulsed Los Angeles during the riots in 1992, jihadists have come to realize the potential destructive impact of racial strife on the social and legal order of the United States. As the noted terrorism analyst Walid Phares observed, part of al Qaeda's strategy is to destabilize the nation's ethnic and racial makeup as a way to undermine the country's national security. According to Phares, al Qaeda's grand strategy includes fomenting a long-term "internal" tension to engender the "ethnic crumbling" of America. By exacerbating ethnic and racial hostilities, al Qaeda and related groups could detonate an "ethnic bomb" and provoke a crisis. If well manipulated, this could cause the social and legal order to disintegrate. Perhaps a breaking point could someday be reached in which racial unrest will explode across the country. Europe, Phares once warned, is already close to this level as evidenced by the riots that occurred in the suburbs of Paris in the fall of 2005.

As Osama bin Laden's pronouncements suggested, he believed that America, despite its superpower status, was internally weak because of its heterogeneous population. He once derided the United States as a "gathering of nations" meaning that is a polyglot society and not an authentic nation based on shared ethnicity. In a similar vein, Abu-Ubayd al-Quarashi, an al Qaeda ideologist, once called America the "Disunited States of America" describing the country as "a mixture of nationalities, ethnic groups, and races united only by the 'American Dream,' or, to put it more correctly, worship of the dollar, which they openly call 'the Almighty Dollar.'" As part of al Qaeda's strategy, the organization has sought to create a broad coalition against the soon-to-be minority white population in the United States. To that end, in the spring of 2007, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri announced in a four-minute video titled "To Black Americans," that al Qaeda was fighting for Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities, as he stated: Al Qaeda is not merely for the benefit of Muslims.

That's why I want Blacks in America, people of color, American Indians, Hispanics, and all the weak and oppressed in North and South America, in Africa and Asia, and all over the world to know that when we wage jihad in Allah's path, we aren't waging jihad to lift oppression from Muslims only; we are waging jihad to lift oppression from all mankind, because Allah has ordered us never to accept oppression, whatever it may be…This is why I want every oppressed one on the face of the earth to know that our victory over America and the Crusading West-with Allah's permission-is a victory for them, because they shall be freed from the most powerful tyrannical force in the history of mankind.

More recently, the spring 2013 issue of the online magazine, Inspire-produced by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-carried a picture of and a quote by Malcolm X in which he counseled that Islam was the only religion that could erase the race problem in America. Below the quote were pictures of Trayvon Martin with the caption "FIELD NEGRO" and President Barack Obama with the caption "HOUSE NEGRO."

Muslim Outreach to Black Nationalists
Middle Eastern sponsors of terrorism have long sought to enlist African-Americans in their struggles against the United States. Viewing himself as a revolutionary vanguard whose ideology was meant for export, the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi targeted not only the United States and the West, but regimes in the Middle East as well. His penchant for adventurism in the region alienated him from virtually all Arab leaders. With most of the Middle East against him, Gaddafi eventually abandoned pan-Arabism and embraced pan-Africanism. His calls for African solidarity resonated with like-minded groups in America.

As part of his effort to reach out to African-Americans, Gaddafi recruited members of a Black Chicago street gang known as El Rukns to advance his terrorist agenda. Originally called the Blackstone Rangers and founded by Jeffrey Fort, the organization grew to dominate large areas of the Black community and became a potent political force in Chicago. However, in 1987, Fort and four other members of the gang were implicated in plotting terrorist acts on behalf of Gaddafi and Libya. Allegedly, gang members met with Gaddafi and agreed to blow up American airliners and U.S. government buildings in exchange for $2.5 million, but were arrested before the scheme could be carried out. Fort was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy. According to a former gang member, Lance Williams, it was Minister Louis Farrakhan who introduced Jeffrey Fort to Gaddafi at the Nation of Islam's 1985 Saviour's Day convention in Chicago.

The Nation of Islam is considered heretical by most Islamic denominations, but it nonetheless enjoys considerable influence in the African-American community. For many African-Americans, the Nation of Islam has served as a gateway to Islam. The first major effort to resurrect Islam in America occurred in 1913 when Noble Drew Ali (1886-1929) founded the Moorish Science Temple in Newark, New Jersey. After his death in 1929, the organization went into steep decline, but one of his followers, Wallace D. Fard, founded a new sect called the "Lost-Found Tribe of Shabazz" (later called the Nation of Islam) in Detroit in the early 1930s.

For a short time, Fard led the small sect, but eventually came under the scrutiny of law enforcement authorities in Detroit and decided to leave the city. He passed control of the organization over to his most trusted disciple, Elijah Muhammad. Despite numerous setbacks and travails, which included imprisonment for draft evasion, Muhammad persevered and built the Nation of Islam into a powerful African-American institution. Furthermore, he attracted some men of considerable talent. For example, the Nation of Islam gained prominence in the 1960s, largely due to the efforts of its late firebrand speaker, Malcolm X. With the death of Muhammad in 1975, the sect split with one faction led by Muhammad's son Wallace and the other led by Louis Farrakhan. Eventually, Farrakhan reconstituted the group with a remnant of supporters and leads the organization to this day.

Farrakhan's outspoken criticism of U.S. foreign policy has endeared him to many Muslim leaders in the Middle East. Muammar Gaddafi, in particular, had an abiding alliance with the Nation of Islam and extended his support on several key junctures in the organization's history. The late leader, Elijah Muhammad, along with the legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, visited Libya in 1972 and personally met with Gaddafi. That same year, Gaddafi gave the Nation of Islam a zero-interest $3 million loan payable over a three-year period. In 1985, Farrakhan announced that he had received a $5 million interest-free loan from Gaddafi which he used to pay back taxes and purchase his home.

And in 1996, Gaddafi attempted to give the Nation of Islam $1 billion, but the donation was fought by the Clinton administration and never made. Farrakhan did, however, accept the "Gaddafi Human Rights Award," which came with a $250,000 prize despite the sanctions levied against Libya. For his support, Farrakhan expressed his appreciation for the Libyan leader: "We've come back by the grace of God and the help of Brother Muammar Gaddafi. This is why we will always love him, admire and respect him and stand up and speak on his behalf." Farrakhan has long felt a strong connection to the Libyan leader. By his own account, the first international call he received after the Million Man March was from Gaddafi. After Gaddafi was killed by rebels in October of 2011, Farrakhan praised the late Libyan leader commenting that he had "died in honor" fighting for his country In late November 2014, at a speech given at Morgan State University, Farrakhan warned America of possible retaliation to the recent series of killings of Black men by police officers: "As long as they [Whites] kill us [Blacks] and go to Wendy's and have a burger and go to sleep, they'll keep killing us."

But when we die and they die, then soon we're going to sit at a table and talk about it! We're tired! We want some of this earth or we'll tear this goddamn country up!"
On numerous occasions, Muammar Gaddafi urged Blacks and Native Americans to create an independent and sovereign state inside the United States. Gaddafi saw African-Americans as demographically dynamic, thus destined to fulfill a large role in America as he explained in a section called "Black People will Prevail in the World" in his revolutionary manifesto, The Green Book: The latest age of slavery has been the enslavement of Black people by White people. The memory of this age will persist in the thinking of Black people until they have vindicated themselves. […]

Black people are now in a very backward social situation, but such backwardness works to bring about their numerical superiority because their low standard of living has shielded them from knowing methods of birth control and family planning. Also, their old social traditions place no limit to marriages, leading to their accelerated growth. The population of others races has decreased because of birth control, restrictions on marriage and continuous occupation in work, unlike the Blacks, who tend to be lethargic in a climate which is continually hot.

In particular, Gaddafi believed that African-Americans had the greatest revolutionary potential in America. He once suggested that African-Americans who serve in the U.S. military could form the core of a secessionist movement. At the 1985 Nation of Islam's Saviour's Day Convention in Chicago, Gaddafi spoke via satellite and urged Black soldiers serving in the U.S. military to quit and get behind Farrakhan. He even offered to train and arm them. For his part, Farrakhan immediately rejected the offer, perhaps fearing the legal consequences.

Some African-American soldiers have indeed been swayed by the pull of radical Islam as illustrated by the case of Isa Abdullah Ali. Born as Cleven Raphael Holt, he dropped out of high school in 1972 and joined the army. By 1973, he had completed his Special Forces training and became a soldier of the elite Green Berets. After serving four months in Vietnam, he was transferred to South Korea where he concluded his three-year enlistment. Soon thereafter he converted to Islam and joined a Shiite sect. In December 1980, Ali left his family and departed to Afghanistan where he fought alongside the mujahedeen against the Soviet Red Army. Later that same decade, he fought in Lebanon against the Israel Defense Forces. During the mid-1990s, NATO issued intelligence warnings that Ali was fighting alongside Muslims in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

He remained there after the war, married, and had four children. Recounting his exploits, he admitted that he stopped counting the men he killed at 173, a figure which could conceivably rival the "American Sniper" Chris Kyle's record. In 2010, Ali was the subject of a biographical documentary entitled American Jihadist which was featured at the Slamdance Film Festival where it received the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Islamist Exploitation of Recent Urban Unrest in America In the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, there have been new outreach efforts by Muslims to aggrieved members of the Black community in America. Some Muslim activists sought to co-opt the protests that spread to cities across the country. For example, a number of pro-Palestinian activists expressed support online for the Ferguson demonstrators drawing parallels between the plight of Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the plight of Blacks in urban America. Black protestors were compared to Palestinian youths who confronted Israeli security forces during the various intifadas. As Naomi Shihab Nye, who has lived both in Palestine and the United States, explained, Jim Crow in America was not unlike and the segregation of Jews and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

About the Author

George Michael is an associate professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. Previously, he was an associate professor of nuclear counterproliferation and deterrence theory at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the author of five books, most recently, Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance (Vanderbilt University Press, 2012).


This is only a partial version of the article published in the latest Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security Int'l.
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