The FBI charged a naturalized American citizen named Reaz Qadir Khan in Oregon last month for his involvement in a 2009 bombing in Pakistan that killed about 30 people. According to the indictment, Khan and his associate desired to fight “until Allah’s word is superior or until we perish.”
Khan moved to Portland in 2005 and, at the time of his arrest, worked for the Department of Environmental Services. He was released on bail and is on administrative leave.
He remained in email communication with an Islamist extremist from the Maldives named Ali Jaleel. The email exchanges show that Khan began feeling guilty in December 2005 for not acting out plans previously discussed with Jaleel.
Jaleel apparently grew frustrated with Khan and sent an email on January 14, 2006 and confronted him. Jaleel wrote:
“where are the words you said with tears in your eyes that ‘we shall strive until Allah’s word is superior or until we perish’??? ‘this world is of no use for us so let’s sacrifice ourself [sic] for the pleasure of Allah in this way???’”
About two months later, Jaleel and some colleagues from the Maldives were stopped in Sri Lanka on their way to Pakistan. The objective was to graduate from a terrorist training camp and fight in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Afterwards, Khan advised Jaleel how to successfully travel to Pakistan without being intercepted and promised to take care of his family after he dies. Khan used two contacts in Pakistan to provide Jaleel with the $2,450 admission fee to the training camp. In November 2008, Jaleel said he got a discount and would only have to pay $1,000 for entry and the rest could go to his two wives.
Jaleel and two other terrorists carried out a suicide bombing in Pakistan on May 27, 2009, killing about 30 people. The target was the Lahore headquarters of the ISI intelligence service. The Al-Qaeda-linked media company, As-Sahab, broadcasted Jaleel’s farewell video afterwards (see below).
It is obviously scary that a naturalized citizen in Oregon would commit such acts, but there’s a greater point to be made.
The core motivation wasn’t the U.S. troop presence in Iraq or Afghanistan or any other policy difference. They were motivated by an ideology that glorifies “martyrdom” and dying in violent jihad. The ultimate goal was not to influence U.S. policy but to “strive until Allah’s word is superior.”
The most common denominator in cases of Islamic terrorism is a belief that Allah requires all able-bodied Muslims to assist violent jihad and to pursue the establishment of sharia as a political system.
In March, two Americans were arrested as they made their way to fight in Syria. One wanted to join the side of Bashar Assad and Hezbollah and the other wanted to help Al-Qaeda attack rival Muslims in Syria. Both were motivated by a belief that Allah commands them to wage jihad. The latter Islamist even said he’d strike Los Angeles if his travel to Syria was prevented.
Only days later, another two Americans were arrested trying to go to Syria. Again, both felt they were required to fight in jihad in general. Their issue wasn’t Syria—Syria was just the opportunity. Both were anti-American, talked about instituting sharia governance and despised Muslims that don’t share their beliefs.
If the U.S. believes that Islamist terrorists are motivated by political issues, then we’ll be endlessly chasing solutions from one problem to the next in the hopes of stopping their radicalization. It will never end. When one grievance is removed another will arise, because we aren’t recognizing the true source of those grievances.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.