Two Americans were arrested in the past few days as the Syrian civil war attracts Western recruits. One sought to join Hezbollah and the other took the side of an Al-Qaeda affiliate, but both believed they were fulfilling a commandment to wage jihad against the infidel.
An American from California named Nicholas Michael Teausant was arrested as he tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda until recently when it had a falling out with the central leadership. He boasted of how he’d become famous around the world as a white convert and would not cover his face so the cameras could seen his skin color.
He enlisted in the National Guard but failed the tests necessary to begin basic training. He was due to be discharged.
Teausant discussed a camping trip he went on with friends who discussed “hitting” Los Angeles, with the subway being a prime target. The plot was canned because of concerns that the FBI had detected it. Instead, he looked to Syria.
He was not motivated by anger over U.S. policy or the brutality of the Assad regime, per se. He did not see himself as a freedom fighter, but as a jihadist acting upon Allah’s will to wage war on the non-Muslim world.
His immediate target in Syria was the Free Syria Army, not Assad’s forces. When an FBI informant tried to discourage his plan by pointing out that there is an inner jihad and external jihad, he said he was already performing the inner jihad every day and both are required of Muslims.
He lied to his mom about his beliefs. When the topic of terrorism came up, he’d say, “I would never do that” but privately thought, “good job.” Islamist scholars teach that lying is a sin, except for when it is necessary for one’s safety and the greater cause of advancing their beliefs.
Teausant even said he’d murder his mother if she tried to stop him from traveling.
“I love her, but she’s still a kuffar,” using a derogatory Islamic term for non-Muslims.
At around the same time, a Lebanese-American was arrested in Michigan for planning to join the opposite jihadist side in the Syrian civil war. The individual, Mohammad Hassan Hamdan, wanted to join Hezbollah (which is sponsored by Iran) in defending the Assad regime.
Hamdan told an FBI informant that he was involved with Hezbollah before he came to the U.S. in 2007, even receiving terrorist training and working in its social welfare programs. He was able to come to the country because, unsurprisingly, he didn’t mention that when he applied to come to America.
He told the FBI’s source that Hezbollah would pay him $500-$1,000 every month to fight by their side. This indicates that Hamdan was communicating with Hezbollah while in America, and the terrorist group is actively recruiting Americans to fight in the Syrian civil war.
At least 70 Americans have planned travel to Syria to fight in the civil war and an unknown number have succeeded. European officials believe at least 1,200 Muslims from their continent have made the trip.
Syrian jihadists have a sophisticated network in America, including those favorable to Al-Qaeda-linked groups. One opposition group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood has received over $12 million in U.S. government assistance.
Another Islamist named Sheikh Osama al-Rifai has used the Syrian Sunrise Foundation to raise over $3.6 million in one tour, bringing him to Florida, Illinois, Texas, Indiana, California and Michigan. His fundraising pitch was that any donor qualifies as a “jihadist for Allah.” One event was held at the influential Mosque Foundation that is part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood network.
In January, a terrorism-supporting imam named Sheikh Mohammad Rateb al-Nabulsi came to the U.S. to fundraise for Syrian “rebels” in 11 cities with help from a group called the Syrian American Council. One of the fundraisers was held at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in N.J. Other events took place in Florida, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Virginia.
In the 1980s, Afghanistan acted as the incubator for a generation of terrorists. It was the one spot where aspiring jihadists could go to get everything they needed, especially fighting experience. Other Muslims, innocently hoping to stop oppression, became radicalized on the battlefield.
Syria is modern-day equivalent. The civil war could end tomorrow, but the jihad it intensified will go on.
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.