Homeland Security

South Carolina Terror Case Highlights U.S.’s Schizophrenic Response to Jihad

An eighteen-year-old Muslim named Zakaryia Abdin was arrested last Thursday at Charleston International Airport as he was about to board a plane to begin his journey to the Islamic State (ISIS). Instead, he is back in custody — where he has been before, for an earlier jihad plot.

The case of Zakaryia Abdin highlights a massive and largely unnoticed weakness in America’s efforts to combat jihad terror.

Abdin was arrested in 2015, when he was sixteen years old, and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. But he was no gang member or petty criminal. According to WBTV:

[Abdin] had been talking with a person in North Carolina and was planning to use one or two firearms to rob a gun shot to get larger weapons.

Those larger weapons would then be used to attack a North Carolina military installation, investigators said, adding the pair planned to leave the United States and go to the Middle East and join ISIS.

Since he was only sixteen, Abdin was ordered to be held in juvenile detention until he was 21. This was the maximum sentence he could be given as a juvenile, which Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett had argued for:

In court, we explained to judge the gravity of the offense. We were deeply concerned about the safety of the public if he got out.

Abdin, however, knew just the right tune to sing:

Brackett said Abdin told the court he was troubled, that his father had died, and swore this was an isolated incident, adding he had just been confused. He promised they wouldn’t hear from him again, Brackett said.

That was apparently good enough for the parole board, for Abdin was recently paroled, three years early and over the objections of York, South Carolina Police Chief Andy Robinson, who remarked:

I am disgruntled that the juvenile parole board would not heed our warning and that the federal government did not pursue terrorism-related charges when he was a juvenile, which forced us to charge him with a misdemeanor gun charge rather than with a more serious terrorism-related charge.

When Abdin was arrested again last week, Robinson said:

Given nature of allegations and the incident here, and evidence I saw in 2015, I’m not terribly surprised. I always thought these beliefs were much more deeply rooted. I’m grateful that the federal authorities were keeping close tabs on him and able to intervene before anyone got hurt.

But Robinson added that it was:

… just frustrating that we knew he was not reformed and that he would continue to pursue these sorts of activities.

Not only did Robinson and his colleagues know not to buy Abdin’s story that he was reformed, but they could also know that nothing whatsoever would be done in Abdin’s juvenile facility to change his views.

The U.S. pursues a peculiarly schizophrenic response to Islamic jihad terror. When Islamic jihadis, steeped in the teachings of the Qur’an and Muhammad regarding warfare against unbelievers, strike against the United States, or try to, and are caught, in our prison system the religion that motivated and incited them to attack us is treated with respect bordering on reverence. The jihadis are able to practice it without any encumbrance whatsoever.

Zakaryia Abdin, while he was in the juvenile justice facility in Columbia, South Carolina, was no doubt given a Qur’an and allowed to join other Muslim inmates for prayers. So were the jihadis at Guantanamo — where guards wore gloves to handle the Muslim holy book, acknowledging their unworthiness to touch it with their infidel hands.

Imagine if German prisoners of war had been given copies of Mein Kampf by their American jailors, and encouraged to engage in Nazi activities. The point here is not to compare the Qur’an to Mein Kampf (although that could be a fruitful line of inquiry), but to question the wisdom of reinforcing in prisoners the ideology that landed them in prison in the first place.

Of course, U.S. officials still officially deny that Islam has any role in motivating or inciting jihadis, so their position doesn’t seem schizophrenic to them. They doubtless hope that by taking the time actually to read the Qur’an, young would-be jihad killers such as Zakariya Abdin will realize that the Islamic State’s Islam is a twisted, hijacked version of the noble religion of peace.

Abdin himself has now proven that such a result is unlikely to come about. American authorities need to recognize that the Qur’an does indeed contain verses exhorting to hatred and violence, and think twice about reinforcing such tendencies in those who have already been moved by such verses to try to kill.

Instead, however, Zakariya Abdin, wherever he is in custody now, no doubt has a brand-new copy of the Qur’an in his cell, courtesy of the American prison system.