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Understanding Online Radicalization: The Jihadi Blogs

RM’s success can also be measured in the number of terrorists it produced. Zachary Chesser, a Muslim convert and former leader of the group, was convicted of trying to join Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab and for making threats to the South Park cartoonists. The currently leader of IP, Jesse Morton (aka Younus Abdullah Muhammad), was arrested last month in Morocco and will be extradited to the U.S. to face charges for his role in those threats.

Several other terrorists participated in RM’s activities. Neil Bryant Vinas, who plotted to blow up trains on the Long Island Rail Road, was a friend of RM’s former leader Yusuf al-Khattab. Tarek Mehanna, convicted on material support charges, and Daniel Maldonado, who is serving 10 years for training with al-Shabaab, were also acquaintances of the group.

Ultimately, the fame that brought new members to RM would bring it down. In April 2010, Zachary Chesser was drawn into RM’s sphere and issued threats against South Park’s creators for their  Muhammad cartoon. The threat, coupled with Chesser’s later indictment for trying to join al-Shabaab, was the first time someone was convicted for information posted on RM’s blog. It would not be the last.

On November 4, 2010, a British member of RM posted a detailed threat against British parliamentarians, as well as a salute to Roshanara Choudhry’s involvement with the blog. The post prayed for Choudhry release, encouraged others to follow her path, reposted the documents that most inspired her, and outlined how and where to strike the politicians. Shortly thereafter, RM’s website was shut down and British police arrested Bilal Zaheer Ahmad for making the post.

RM leader Younus Abdullah Muhammad, the senior leader of RM following the arrest of Chesser and the departure of senior member Yusuf al-Khattab, refused to let the group die. Muhammad founded a successor group called Islam Policy, and linked various Revolution Muslim websites to it. He added other elements, such as an emphasis on Islamic economics and TV commentary for anti-American English news site Russia Today. By mainstreaming the group, he could continue promoting al-Qaeda’s ideology while becoming an international media star.

However, the South Park incident soon caught up with Muhammad. An indictment showed that he was a key player in formulating the “credible” threats for which Chesser took the fall.

Although RM/IP’s history is more developed than many blogs, it shows the power that the jihadist narrative has. Without RM, those indicted for terrorism would not have had the reinforcement and community that motivated their attacks.

(This is Part Two of a series. Part One is here.)