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1st Interview today:
Chris Jansing: He is being called the Bin laden of the Internet. Radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born citizen, is suspected of helping to plan the failed Christmas day airline bombing and is linked to the deadly Fort Hood shootings. He is on the US kill or capture list and has been cultivating a growing list of followers on the Internet. I am joined now by terrorism expert Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. So Steve, al-Awlaki has all of these sermons that he preaches on the Internet. How effective are they and what is his message?
Steve Emerson: Well they are very effective. One, he speaks fluent Arabic and he speaks fluent English, so he has basically opened up his availability to recruit a whole new generation of Western English speaking Muslims in the United States and Europe. In fact about five of the operations or plots last year in the United States by Islamic terrorists were inspired or directed directly by Awlaki. He became an inspirational leader in the last 5 years and then an operational leader in the last 2 years. And his Internet videos have been very effective. He knows the language. He’s a young man; he’s only 39 years old. Born in the United States, went to Colorado State, then moved to Yemen in 2002. Was connected to the 9/11 conspiracy but not really known how much. A bad guy, the first US individual targeted for assassination by the United States.
Jansing: So would it be fair to say because he lived here, he studied here, he gets what it is works essentially when he is making these sermons?
Emerson: I’ve seen at least a dozen of his sermons. I’ve seen his comments on Al Jazeera when he defended his email traffic with Major Nidal Hasan who you know killed 13 people at Fort Hood. Hasan had been in email contact with Awlaki. There are 18 email exchanges and in one of them Awlaki said it is mandatory to kill US soldiers, and that’s exactly what Hasan did at Fort Hood. He has also inspired others to carry out attacks including the Christmas day would-be bomber. So he is a rising star. He is a rock star in Al Qaeda. And he is also safer in Yemen than let’s say al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan because the US is not operating drones in Yemen.
Jansing: Let me ask you about Somalia where dozens of people were killed in a bombing attack on a hotel in Mogadishu. The group Al-Shabaab has been linked to that. Who are these folks and how much of a threat?
Emerson: Well Al-Shabaab comprises an estimated number of about 400 members. They’re not as large as let’s say Al Qaeda but they are growing. Number two is the Americans disproportionately are involved with Al Shabaab including a young man from Alabama who converted to Islam. His name is Omar Hammami and he’s a top official. Shabaab merged with Al Qaeda in 2008 and is now reaching out and carrying out attacks overseas including Uganda – well that’s next door – but also coming back to the United States to carry out attacks. Minnesota has been especially a great recruiting place for Al Shabaab, where more than two dozen American Muslims have been arrested or indicted for joining Al Shabaab.
Jansing: Steve Emerson, it’s always good to have you on. Thank you Steve.
Emerson: You bet.
2nd Interview today:
Contessa Brewer: The CIA now views Al Qaeda in Yemen as a bigger security threat than the core organization in Pakistan. The Obama administration may start targeting cells in Yemen according to the Washington Post. And who is living in living but radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born citizen who is suspected of helping to plan the failed Christmas day airline bombing. He is linked to the deadly Fort Hood shootings, and USA Today says he has been dubbed Bin laden of the Internet. He’s on the United States kill or capture list and has been cultivating a growing list of followers on the Internet. And he’s not the only American waging jihad overseas against the United States. Terror analyst Steve Emerson joins me. Steve, good to see you.
Emerson: Hi Contessa.
Brewer: Are we growing our own Islamic terrorists here in America?
Emerson: Well I think there has been a growth here and I think it’s because one, the availability of the Internet where anyone can see these radical messages and get radicalized. I also think some of the Islamist groups in the United States spread a message that America is at war with Islam or that there is a war against Islam by the US. That is the single most radicalizing factor incentivizing young Muslims to carry out terrorist attacks. And it’s done overseas. That’s what inspires Anwar Awlaki. His messages are replete with that message, that there is war against Islam, you must avenge Islam by carrying out attacks against the US. So I think here in the US we’ve seen an increase. We’ve also seen an increase in Europe as well, and I think that’s largely because the availability of English language imams and English language Internet videos available.
Brewer: All right so when we’re talking about how easy it is to become radicalized in the United States, you’ve got to look at this Somali Al Qaeda-linked group Al Shabaab, which is based in Mogadishu but headed by a white American boy.
Emerson: You know it’s pretty amazing, Omar Hammami who was born in Alabama, white, converted to Islam. He’s only 28-years-old, and then went to Somalia 2 years ago and is now a top ranking official in the Al Shabaab movement. In the United States the cluster of Shabaab headquarters, if we can call them headquarters, is in Minneapolis where there have been the most arrests and recruits toward Al Shabaab. There’s also individuals that have gone to Pakistan, like Shazad, who tried to explode the van last May, and there also have been individuals like Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, who was inspired and directed by Anwar Awlaki. I think we’re in for an increase of attacks here in the United States as well as overseas.
Brewer: And our investigative producer for NBC, Bob Windrom, tells me that counterterrorism officials tell him there are 50 Americans linked with Al-Shabaab, which is they estimate far more than any other Al Qaeda organization. I want to turn to a different issue now because we’re watching this breaking news from Iraq where all of a sudden coordinated attacks on the security forces there in Iraq, so far more than 45 people have been killed. And you’re looking at coordinated attacks against the army, police. What does this say about the situation in Iraq now that US combat forces have left?
Emerson: Contessa, I think this is a deliberate attempt to show that there is a void created by the withdrawal of American forces. Now we don’t know whether these attacks were carried out by Ba’athists, by Al Qaeda or even by Shiites inspired by Iran. I suspect the latter. What I think is going on here is that Iran is going to fill the vacuum created by the absence of US forces, and that ultimately Iraq will fall under the umbrella of Iranian influence as will UAE and Saudi Arabia over time because there won’t be US forces there to protect them. This is a very big dilemma for the United States.
Brewer: All right, it’s good to see you today. I appreciate your time.
Emerson: You got it.