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Radicalization in US: First Americans Killed Fighting for ISIS

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The U.S. government has confirmed that Douglas McAuthur McCain has become the first American to die fighting alongside the Islamic State. Now, a second American, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, has been killed in Syria. The two died in the same fighting near Aleppo against rival rebel forces.

Muhumed is a Somali-American from Minneapolis, Minnesota. A news outlet confirmed in June that he was in Syria fighting for the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). He said he was “happy” with being called a terrorist.

Muhumed began posting photos of himself with the Islamic State and holding weapons in January. His friends did not see any previous signs of extremism and said he was known as Abdifatah Afweyne. Muhumed told MPR News that the Islamic State is “trying to bring back the khilaffa [caliphate]” and “Allah loves those who fight for his cause.”

Minnesota Somali-American activist Abdirizak Bihi confirms that Islamic State members are reaching out to Somalis in the area. He has blamed the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for inhibiting his anti-radicalization work and the subsequent U.S. government investigations into the matter.

“They [the Islamic State] are brainwashing them to marry them off to jihadists,” Bihi said. “They call them to help out as nurses, help out the wounded — but the real catch is they will be sexually exploited,” he explained.

Bihi’s information is reminiscent of the arrest of a Colorado woman, Shannon Maureen Conley, who was intercepted as she planned to go to Syria via Turkey to marry an Islamic State member she met online. Conley planned to live with him, work as a nurse and give military training to the group.

Muhumed’s death comes shortly after the U.S. government said that Douglas McAuthur McCain became the first American member of the Islamic State to die.

McCain was born in the Chicago area, grew up near Minneapolis and moved to San Diego, California. He had significant trouble with the law, tallying up a total of nine misdemeanors between 2000 and 2006.

He said he “reverted” (converted to Islam) in 2004. The mosque he attended was Masjid Nur, which does not appear to have a website. IslamicFinder.org shows it is also known as the Islamic Association and Foundation of San Diego.

McCain’s Facebook name was “Duale ThaSlaveofAllah.” His Twitter name was  Duale Khalid, with the handle of “IAmtheTooth.” His radical beliefs were expressed on both.

On Facebook, he posted a picture in January 2013 of a high school friend that was killed in Somalia fighting for al-Shabaab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

Reporters who have interviewed old friends and associates of McCain said he did not express extremism and was not deeply religious. He was often seen smoking outside of a restaurant. His social media activity, even after he joined the terrorists, is full of foul language that one does not normally associate with Islamists.

On Twitter, he talked about smoking marijuana, made anti-gay statements and derogatory comments about Somalis in San Diego. He also tweeted hatred for whites after watching The Help, a 2011 movie about the Civil Rights era.

In April, he traveled to Turkey and began tweeting about his support for the Islamic State. On June 9, he tweeted to an apparent Islamic State member, “I will be joining you guys soon,” and later declared, “I’m with the brothers now.”

However, based on his later tweets, McCain’s purpose in joining the Islamic State was not nationalistic in nature. The core belief motivating him was the establishment of sharia governance, as highlighted in this tweet where he ridiculed Muslims that do not implement theocracy:

He also posted an English translation of a speech by the Islamic State’s spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adani. It is clear that the group’s hostility to the West emanates from a fundamental belief in the Islamic State.

The group also believes that jihad is mandatory at all times and is not conditioned on circumstances. In other words, Muslims are to seek out conflicts to fight in. The Islamic State’s jihad against the West cannot be attributed to policy disagreements; it is the result of a doctrine that teaches perpetual warfare.

For example, Al-Adani preaches:

“It is time that you O Sunnah of Iraq to know the way of honor and authority, the way of prosperity, security and happiness. It is time that you know there are no rights without Jihad, no justice without Jihad, no honor without Jihad, no security without Jihad, no hope without Jihad, no life without Jihad, no life without Jihad.”

What makes the cases of Muhumed and McCain particularly frightening is that there are many that will follow in their footsteps. The intelligence community is currently investigating about 300 Americans suspected of joining the Islamic State.

The U.S. government is preparing for likely airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria. President Obama reportedly wants to make a decision within the next few days.

The U.S., Britain and other European countries are extremely concerned about returning jihadis. They need also be concerned about those who haven’t left and are planning to retaliate.

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Ryan Mauro

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's Shillman Fellow, national security analyst and the director of Clarion Intelligence Network. Mauro is also an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.