Can Parents' Divorce Push a Teen to Join Al-Qaeda?

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An 18-year-old convert to Islam from Long Island, Justin Kaliebe, has pled guilty to trying to join Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), a Yemeni group affiliated with al-Qaeda. He is facing a thirty-year prison sentence. But not so fast, says his lawyer, Anthony LaPinta. “Justin Kaliebe,” LaPinta insists, “is a gentle, misguided, autistic teenager who does not have the ability to fully understand the magnitude and consequences of his actions.” In other words, in the immortal words of the “Officer Krupke” song from West Side Story, he’s depraved on account he’s deprived.

According to Bilal Hito, who attends the same mosque Kaliebe has frequented in Bay Shore, Long Island, Kaliebe’s parents divorced when he was just three or four years old. A news report identified Kaliebe as hailing from “Babylon and Bay Shore, N.Y.,” suggesting a dreary home life shuttling back and forth between parents engaged in a polite cold war. And Hito said that the boy just wasn’t right: “There was something about Justin that made you feel you were around a little boy. Mentally he was very young. He was more like a kid brother.”

Kaliebe’s friend Ahmad Deib, who also knows Kaliebe from the Bay Shore mosque, vehemently dismissed the jihad terror charges against Kaliebe. “That, to me, is a bunch of garbage. This is a case of entrapment. This kid, he couldn’t hurt a fly. He is one of the most kindhearted kids you would ever know.”

As gentle and autistic, mentally young and kindhearted as he may be, Kaliebe certainly seemed to be fully aware of what he was trying to do. Undercover officers caught him pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda and jihad leaders: “I pledge my loyalty, allegiance and fidelity to the Mujahedeen of Al-Qaa’idah in the Arabian Peninsula and its leaders, Shaykh Abu Baseer Nasir Al-Wuhayshi and Shaykh Ayman Al-Zawahiri, hafidhahum Allah [may Allah protect them]! May Allah accept this from me and may he allow me to fight in his cause til the day that I leave this dunya [world].”


Justin Kaliebe

Far from being a simple soul, Kaliebe was also aware that he might be dealing with undercover agents, asking for assurances that the man he thought was an al-Qaeda  operative was not going to “rat him out” and assuring him in turn that he wanted to wage jihad “for the sake of Allah.” He spoke also about “the crime that they would charge people like us with,” which involved plotting “to kill, maim and kidnap in foreign countries.”

Nonetheless, he wanted to charge ahead, declaring: “There is no way out for me. … The only way out is martyrdom.” When asked if he wanted to die, he said, “I wanna …  it’s what anyone would want, any believer would want.” He was aware that he was going to be waging hot warfare against “those who are fighting against the Sharia of Allah … whether it’s the U.S. drones or the, their puppets, in the Yemeni army …  or, who knows, if American agents or whatever, U.S. Special Forces … who they got over there.”

Is this hatred of his own country and desire to fight and die for Islam really a product of divorce and autism? Yet millions of children grow up in broken homes, and millions are autistic, and yet they never take the path Justin Kaliebe chose. Was he really entrapped? The very fact that he went ahead with his plots ought to be sufficient indication that he wasn’t. Think about it: what would it take to lead you to join a jihad terrorist group? If undercover agents approached you and tried to entice you into joining one, how hard would it be to convince you to do it?


Speaking strictly for myself, I have absolutely no worries of ever being entrapped in this way; there is simply nothing, under any circumstances, that anyone could say to me to convince me to join al-Qaeda and fight against my own country. And so if someone showed up and started trying to cajole me into doing so, I wouldn’t come close to doing anything that would enable anyone to portray me as guilty of anything. Justin Kaliebe, in contrast, went along enthusiastically. Law enforcement agents were not to blame and cannot justly be held accountable for his choices.

These increasingly common charges of entrapment, as well as the defense’s attempt to portray Kaliebe as mentally impaired, should be seen for what they are: yet another attempt to divert attention from the ugly reality of Islamic jihad activity in the U.S. and around the world, and to place the responsibility for jihadist misdeeds upon non-Muslims – specifically the ones who are trying to thwart the jihadists’ plans. After 9/11, we were assured again and again that the vast majority of Muslims in the U.S. and worldwide were peaceful, and sincerely condemned such violence perpetrated in the name of their religion.

Yet nearly twelve years later, we still have yet to see a sincere and effective effort within mosques to expose and report those who hold to the beliefs that led to those attacks. Including Justin Kaliebe’s Bay Shore mosque, where investigators should (in a sane world) be investigating what he was taught that led him to embark upon his jihad path. Instead, we get the “Officer Krupke” defense. But Justin Kaliebe ain’t depraved on account he’s deprived. He’s depraved because he was indoctrinated into a violent, supremacist ideology. But no one wants to face the implications of that.