Idris Abdus-Salaam, 33, a truck driver from Durham, North Carolina, on Tuesday pulled into the Pilot Travel Center on Strawberry Plains Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee, got out of his truck, pulled out a knife, and went on a stabbing spree. He stabbed three women to death and injured a fourth. When confronted by police, Abdus-Salaam refused to drop his weapon and was shot dead. According to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) spokeswoman Leslie Earhart, authorities are still trying to determine his motive. But will they miss an obvious clue that is right in front of their faces?
The three women Abdus-Salaam killed were all employees of the Pilot Travel Center. The fourth victim, who is in the hospital fighting to recover from the wounds Abdus-Salaam gave her, was a customer. If Abdus-Salaam knew any of them personally, the fact has not been reported. It may emerge that he did, but as of this writing, this looks like a random act of violence.
Predictably, investigators are pursuing the possibility that Abdus-Salaam was mentally ill. In this, they are following the lead of numerous authorities in the U.S. and Europe, who have ascribed incidents in which Muslims behaved violently to mental illness, often ignoring their jihad statements in order to do so. According to news reports, investigators found a notebook in his truck containing writings that suggested he was mentally ill, but none of these writings were released.
Abdus-Salaam may indeed have been mentally ill. However, if he was, his mother, Walidah Abdus-Salaam, was unaware of the fact – that is, if she is being honest. “He’s not a violent person,” she insisted. “The picture they painted is ugly.” She didn’t even believe her Idris was the one who went on the stabbing spree: “That is not my son. I don’t believe it, and I refuse to believe it until they can prove otherwise to me.” She said that there was no indication that Idris was suffering from any form of mental illness, “unless it developed recently and I’m not aware of it.”
However, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Walidah Abdus-Salaam said that her son was “a practicing Muslim,” although “his loved ones had no reason to believe he had become radicalized by any sort of religious fanaticism.”
That may be, but the very fact that he was a practicing Muslim ought to be followed up by investigators. The Islamic State issued this call in September 2014:
So O muwahhid, do not let this battle pass you by wherever you may be. You must strike the soldiers, patrons, and troops of the tawaghit. Strike their police, security, and intelligence members, as well as their treacherous agents. Destroy their beds. Embitter their lives for them and busy them with themselves. If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be….If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him….
Every practicing Muslim is not a terrorist, but every jihad terrorist is a practicing Muslim. Islamic jihad groups routinely explain and justify their activities on the basis of Islamic texts and teachings, and appeal to peaceful Muslims by claiming to be the authentic exponents of those texts and teachings. Numerous jihad terrorists have been nominal or non-practicing Muslims whose turn to jihad violence coincided with their becoming more devout in their observance of Islam – notably Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
In fact, the correlation between a new, deepened Islamic religiosity and jihad activity was so strong that the FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies used to consider a sudden turn toward devoutness in Islam to be an indication that someone bore watching for possible engagement in terrorism. The Obama administration scrapped this in 2011 when it scrubbed all counterterror materials of all mention of Islam and jihad, for reasons of political correctness.
But the investigators were right the first time. And so the TBI should now be asking: how long has Idris Abdus-Salaam been a practicing Muslim? How devout is he? Where does he go to mosque, and what is taught in that mosque? But these questions and other important related questions will almost certainly not be asked. To ask them would be “Islamophobic.” And so one thing is certain: Idris Abdus-Salaam may not have been a jihadi, but other Muslims who are indeed jihadis will slip through the cracks when they could have been caught before they attacked.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.