Profiling: Sketching the Face of Jihadism
MIN READJan 20, 2010 | 19:50 GMT
By Scott Stewart On Jan. 4, 2010, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) adopted new rules that would increase the screening of citizens from 14 countries who want to fly to the United States as well as travelers of all nationalities who are flying to the United States from one of the 14 countries. These countries are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Four of the countries — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — are on the U.S. government's list of state sponsors of terrorism. The other 10 have been labeled "countries of interest" by the TSA and appear to have been added in response to jihadist attacks in recent years. Nigeria was almost certainly added to the list only as a result of the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian man. As reflected by the large number of chain e-mails that swirl around after every attack or attempted attack against the United States, the type of profiling program the TSA has instituted will be very popular in certain quarters. Conventional wisdom holds that such programs will be effective in protecting the flying public from terrorist attacks because profiling is easy to do. However, when one steps back and carefully examines the historical face of the jihadist threat, it becomes readily apparent that it is very difficult to create a one-size-fits-all profile of a jihadist operative. When focusing on a resourceful and adaptive adversary, the use of such profiles sets a security system up for failure by causing security personnel and the general public to focus on a threat that is defined too narrowly. Sketching the face of jihadism is simply not as easy as it might seem.
The Historical Face of TerrorOne popular chain e-mail that seemingly circulates after every attack or attempted attack notes that the attack was not conducted by Richard Simmons or the Tooth Fairy but by "Muslim male extremists between the ages of 17 and 40." And when we set aside the Chechen "Black Widows", the occasional female suicide bomber and people like Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph, many terrorist attacks are indeed planned and orchestrated by male Muslim extremists between the ages of 17 and 40. The problem comes when you try to define what a male Muslim extremist between the ages of 17 and 40 looks like. When we look back at the early jihadist attacks against the United States, we see that many perpetrators matched the stereotypical Muslim profile. In the killing of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing and the thwarted 1993 New York Landmarks Plot, we saw a large contingent of Egyptians, including Omar Abdul-Rahman (aka "the Blind Sheikh"), ElSayyid Nosair, Ibrahim Elgabrowny, Mahmud Abouhalima and several others. In fact, Egyptians played a significant role in the development of the jihadist ideology and have long constituted a very substantial portion of the international jihadist movement — and even of the core al Qaeda cadre. Because of this, it is quite surprising that Egypt does not appear on the TSA's profile list. Indeed, in addition to the Egyptians, in the early jihadist plots against the United States we also saw operatives who were Palestinian, Pakistani, Sudanese and Iraqi. However — and this is significant — in the New York Landmarks Plot we also saw a Puerto Rican convert to Islam named Victor Alvarez and an African-American Muslim named Clement Rodney Hampton-el. Alvarez and Hampton-el clearly did not fit the typical profile. The Kuwait-born Pakistani citizen who was the bombmaker in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing is a man named Abdul Basit (widely known by his alias, Ramzi Yousef). After leaving the United States, Basit resettled in Manila and attempted to orchestrate an attack against U.S. airliners in Asia called Operation Bojinka. After an apartment fire in Manila caused Basit to flee the city, he moved to Islamabad, where he attempted to recruit new jihadist operatives to carry out the Bojinka plot. One of the men he recruited was a South African Muslim named Istaique Parker. After a few dry-run operations, Parker got cold feet, decided he did not want to embrace martyrdom and helped the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service special agents assigned to the U.S. Embassy orchestrate Basit's arrest. A South African named Parker does not fit the typical terrorist profile. The following individuals, among many others, were involved in jihadist activity but did not fit what most people would consider the typical jihadist profile:
- Richard Reid, the British citizen known as the "shoe bomber."
- Jose Padilla, the American citizen known as the "dirty bomber."
- Adam Gadahn, an al Qaeda spokesman who was born Adam Pearlman in California.
- John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban."
- Jack Roche, the Australian known as "Jihad Jack."
- The Duka brothers, ethnic Albanians involved in the Fort Dix plot.
- Daniel Boyd and his sons, American citizens plotting grassroots attacks inside the United States.
- Germaine Maurice Lindsay, the Jamaican-born suicide bomber involved in the July 7, 2005, London attacks.
- Nick Reilly, the British citizen who attempted to bomb a restaurant in Exeter in May 2008.
- David Headley, the U.S. citizen who helped plan the Mumbai attacks.