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Why Wasn’t American Al-Qaeda Ghostwriter on No-Fly List?

U.S. citizen Samir Khan, believed to have written al-Qaeda's online recruiting magazine, managed to flee the country on a plane last year. We've known of him since 2007.

by
Annie Jacobsen

Bio

July 26, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Earlier this month, a 24-year-old North Carolina man named Samir Khan was fingered by U.S. officials as being the ghostwriter for al-Qaeda’s newest recruiting tool — a 70-page online magazine called Inspire and published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In October 2009, Khan fled the United States for Yemen, where he is currently believed to be.

That an American citizen on the run is behind this glossy, new jihad recruiting tool has people up in arms. But there is another important question which should be asked by anyone concerned with how much money goes into TSA’s ever-increasing annual budget, and how little they seem to do. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be getting $8.2 billion for its 2011 fiscal year, up half a billion dollars from 2010.

With all the money and manpower being pumped into the aviation security net, how did Samir Khan — a known jihadist — manage to slip through the TSA’s no-fly list and escape to Yemen with such ease?

Khan was born in Saudi Arabia. He moved with his family to Queens, New York, when he was seven. There, his radicalization began, according to Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Emerson’s group has been monitoring Khan since 2007, when the aspiring jihadist was running a jihad blog out of his parents’ suburban home in North Carolina. Last week, Emerson told CNN: “The FBI took no action because [Khan] was exercising his free speech.” Also according to Emerson, the FBI saw Khan as a “lone terrorist” and not connected to a bigger network.

Apparently, they were wrong.

The Inspire terror guide includes a section on bomb-making instructions, information about how to send encrypted messages, and an interview with another American jihadist, the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — wanted by the Obama administration dead or alive. Emerson calls Inspire “a jihadist version of Popular Mechanics, Psychology Today, and ‘Ask Ann Landers’” mixed into one. What separates this magazine from other online jihadist websites and magazines is that it is written in slick English prose designed to “inspire” Westerners to join al-Qaeda. North Carolina Congresswoman Sue Myrick, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Fox News that Khan should be “stripped of his citizenship and charged with aiding and abetting al-Qaeda.”

But she is a little late in the game. If the system had worked, Khan would have been taken in for questioning when he tried to flee the United States in October of 2009.

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