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Islamist Terrorists Take Page From US Hate Groups' Internet PlayBook

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The List of post-9/11 Jihadi terrorists--almost long enough to provide a full season of "America's Most Wanted"--now includes a self-styled imam killed in a warehouse shoot-out with FBI agents in Dearborn, Michigan. Luqman Ameen Abdullah recruited followers to his Detroit mosque that offered free soup together with toxic encouragement to "simply shoot a cop in the head" in order to steal the officers' bullet-proof vest.

Meanwhile in Chicago, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian citizen, and David Coleman Headley aka Daood Gilani were arrested by Federal authorities. According to a 47-page federal complaint, Rana used his halal grocery, meat packing plant, and immigration business to finance Headley's travels to Pakistan and Western Europe where the conspirators planned to kill the Danish cartoonist and target the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, responsible for the 2005 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Rana's North Side house, with a proliferation of roof satellite dishes, was the command-and-control center for a conspiracy allegedly spanning three continents that used multiple email accounts (including those of deceased persons) and coded text messages (mov.monie@yahoo) to disseminate funds as well as instructions. Despite the comic code name--"the Mickey Mouse Project"--the plot was taken seriously by Pakistan's terrorist high command including Ilyas Kashmiri, operational chief of an Al Qaeda network who is reported to have been killed recently in a U.S. drone attack.

How can we make sense of the increasing pace of such diverse incidents? By looking to the Internet and fringe US-based hate groups.

Wounded and forced to hide in Osama bin Laden's lair since the 9/11 attacks, the Internet-savvy dragon of global jihad is still belching fire in the form of small terrorist cells that have taken root in the U.S. They get online inspiration from abroad, but otherwise are basically self-directed.

The American jihadis are ideologically far removed from our other domestic terrorist threat--home-grown, far-right fanatics like executed Oklahoma City Bomber Tim McVeigh--but share a technological affinity with White Supremacists like Tom Metzger who use the Internet to promote "leaderless" or "lone wolf" resistance. Osama bin Laden's message is very different than Tom Metzger's, but the strategy promoted over the Internet by Oregon-born, Orange County-raised Adam Gadhan--Osama's web-based Minister of Information--is much the same: don't form large cells, stay decentralized, communicate online, and strike at a thousand vulnerable points when the moment is right.

The plethora of Islamist terrorist arrests across this country since last January run the gamut. White and black, young and middle-aged, single and married, homegrown and foreign born, and legal and illegal immigrants. Some have prison records, some don't.

Terak Mahanna, a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy grad described by friends as a "passionate" blogger, arrested for planning an Al Qaeda-style attack on "nonbelievers and taxpayers" at a Boston-area shopping mall.

Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-born donut peddler who joined a breakaway pro-Taliban faction of a Queens mosque, is accused of planning to use the same beauty salon chemicals like hydrogen peroxide used to kill 52 people on the London subway in 2005--to attack New York commuter trains.

Michael Finton aka Talib Islam, arrested for planning to blow up an Illinois federal building, maintained a MySpace Page that mixes Malcolm X and other American memorabilia with anti-Israel vitriol.

Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19 year-old illegal Jordanian immigrant arrested by FBI agents posing as members of an al-Qa'ida "sleeper" cell for plotting to car bomb a skyscraper in Dallas.

Daniel Patrick "Saifullah" ("Sword of God") Boyd, a white North Carolinian schooled at an expatriate fighter for radical Islam in the Af-Pak region who returned home to target the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia.

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad aka Carlos Bledsoe who lethally shot up the military recruitment center in Little Rock and used Google Map to plan attacks on Jewish and other sites from Philadelphia to Atlanta.

These plotters are lone wolves or charismatic founders of small terror sects. They defy simple distinctions between "domestic" and "foreign" threats. The predominately native-born "North Carolina Seven" was led by white jihadist Daniel Patrick Boyd whose protégé, Hysen Sherifi, regularly circuited between his native Kosovo and the U.S. Plotters like Bledsoe and draw support from radical mosques and often depend on prison recruitment.

Maybe the most important common denominator: the Internet is their Aladdin's Lamp--rubbed thousands of times a day by naïve or warped minds looking to empower themselves of members of "virtual communities" dedicated to hate. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has identified over 10,000 problematic sites, blogs, and expanding social networking services leveraged by bigots and terrorists. For example, Najibullah Zazi was inspired by the YouTube sermons of Indian Muslim preacher, Zakir Naik, and used the worldwide web to download recipes for making bombs.

Tom Metzger, the former television repairman who now webcasts white supremacy, and Terak Mehanna, the pharmacy student accused of cooking up a transnational Islamist conspiracy, both are just as much beneficiaries of the Internet's dark side potential as fascist "Radio Priest" Charles Coughlin was of the "the golden age" of radio during the 1930s. Given the protean nature of the Internet, we can be sure it will be no easy matter for law enforcement--even with the help of decent people of all religious faiths--to put the Genie of web-disseminated hatred and terror back in the bottle.

Historian Dr. Harold Brackman, a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center contributed to this essay.