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Radical blogger was 'Al Qaeda to the core'

Samir Khan, killed with Awlaki, was a skilled propagandist from North Carolina.

October 01, 2011|David Zucchino

NEW BERN, N.C. — Before he was the Yemen-based editor of the English-language online magazine for Al Qaeda's branch in the Arabian peninsula, Samir Khan was a radical young Muslim blogger in North Carolina.

Khan, 25, a skilled propagandist, wrote virulently pro-Al Qaeda blog posts while a student at a community college in Charlotte. As a teenager, he posted blogs championing holy war from his parents' home on suburban Tradition View Drive in a modern Charlotte subdivision.

Khan was one of two American citizens killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, American and Yemeni officials announced Friday. Along with Anwar Awlaki, 40, who was also reported killed, Khan parlayed his idiomatic American English and familiarity with American culture to recruit converts for Al Qaeda throughout the English-speaking world.

Khan edited Inspire, an online English-language magazine that served as Al Qaeda's propaganda arm. From his base in Yemen, Khan wrote stories with headlines such as "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" and "What to Expect in Jihad."

In the bomb article, Khan wrote: "In one or two days the bomb could be ready to kill at least 10 people. In a month you may make a bigger and more lethal bomb that could kill tens of people."

In late 2009, in an introductory interview article titled, "I Am Proud to Be a Traitor to America," Khan said he was "Al Qaeda to the core."

He also was quoted by Inspire as saying:

"I am a traitor to America because my religion requires me to be. We pledge to wage jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our lord as bearers of Islam."

Khan, of Pakistani descent, was born in Saudi Arabia and raised from age 7 in Queens, N.Y. He moved to Charlotte in 2004 when his father, Zafar Khan, who is now 62, was transferred.

Khan arrived in North Carolina as an introverted, awkward young man who did not make friends easily. But he was already radicalized, according to Adam Azad, who befriended Khan in Charlotte.

Khan was outraged that local mosque leaders didn't preach about U.S.-led wars in Muslim nations, Azad told National Public Radio last year.

"He was kind of critical, like, why don't they talk more about injustices that are going on around the world?" Azad said.

While attending Central Piedmont Community College in 2005, Khan began writing a radical blog titled, "Inshallahshaheed," which translates from Arabic as "a martyr if God wills it."

But before he launched the blog, according to NPR, Khan hired a lawyer and asked how far he could go under the 1st Amendment in writing a blog praising Al Qaeda and jihad, or holy war. He was advised to not directly advocate violence.

After Khan championed the killing of U.S. soldiers overseas, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) raised a public alarm in 2007.

"How far does someone have to go before we take them seriously?" Myrick asked. She has since criticized the U.S. intelligence community for failing to heed warnings about Khan.

Khan was so radical that local Muslim leaders met with him and his father in an effort to persuade him to renounce violence in the name of Islam.

The leaders rejected Khan's views and banned him from speaking at local mosques, Jibril Hough, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, told the Charlotte Observer last year.

Hough told NPR that Khan and his father met at Hough's home with Muslim elders. The men sat in a circle and talked for hours.

Khan "mostly just listened," Hough told NPR. "I think at one time during the conversation he tried to give some kind of justification for killing innocent people, but it was a very short rebuttal. And that's why it kind of gave me the idea that we were making progress."

But Khan continued posting to his blog, and he told people that he planned to move to Yemen to teach English. In October 2009, he boarded a flight to Yemen and never returned.

Hough did not respond to telephone messages left at the Islamic center on Friday. A phone number in the name of Zafar Khan was out of service, according to the local phone company.

Samir Khan was invaluable to Al Qaeda because of his verbal skills and provocative prose. His death and that of Awlaki, an operational leader and English-speaking propagandist, are serious losses for Al Qaeda.

"They use this understanding [of English] to develop and refine new tactics and techniques to defeat our security measures and attack us," FBI Assistant Director Mark Giuliano told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in April. "But there's more to it than just understanding our culture; they also understand the use of technology and, more especially, how to use social networking media to their advantage."

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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