Despite numerous arrests, convictions, reports of recruitment activities, and general vile behavior, the United States' small but very vocal Salafist-Jihadist (SJ) community saw its first inspired terrorist attack on US soil last week at Fort Hood. Numerous British and US reports paint a picture of a man who was active in this small, mostly virtual community. As Jarret (and Jihadica and Jawa Report) report, Hasan's violence has been met with elation in the US SJ community and on English language jihadi forums:
Bottom line up front: On the English-language, pro AQ websites, Nidal Malik Hasan’s attack at Ft Hood is being hailed as a victory for Islam and al-Qaida. The participants involved in the discussion see this as the opening shot in what they hope to be a long and bloody war in the United States.
These reports also highlight the key role of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American scholar of Islamic law who was once touted in the local press as a young, moderate leader of Northern Virginia's burgeoning suburban Muslim community. This while the FBI was investigating his connections to several of the 9-11 hijackers. Interestingly, anyone who has been monitoring the US-based SJ community was well aware of the centrality of Awlaki's role in it. After he fled the United States, he landed in Yemen and has been running an "American"-language blog (written in prefect idiomatic American English) since 2007-2008 (I'm working from memory here). His posts, audio and video commentaries, and fatawa, were prominently displayed throughout the US-based SJ community. That he has only now come to the awareness of many in the military and intelligence communities, is more evidence of the appalling mediocrity and endemic bureaucratic indifference that defines the policy and analysis industries here in Washington, DC.
Since it emerged in earnest back in 2005-6 with a collection of blogs and websites, America's SJ virtual community has expanded its presence to include active members of Scribd, Archive.org, and Youtube. However, it appears to be more talk than action. Reports following the arrest of Tarek Mehanna and 2 associates, make this small circle of terrorist wannabes appear to rather hapless. Most of the global SJ action remains in the Middle East and South Asia. Arabic and Urdu are still the primary languages of SJ ideology. The US network's only real religious authority has been the commentary and fatawa of al-Awlaki.
The Fort Hood attack has changed all this, however. It's clear that Hasan was very active in the US SJ community. He communicated with al-Awlaki, and there are now reports that he was talking to others as well. His 2007 power point presentation on Islam is the crystallization of the SJ ideology, expressed in American English, intended for an American audience.There is good news here, if you can call it that. Hasan's attack may have happened too soon in the SJ community's development. The community still lacks authoritative heft it needs to be taken seriously inside the global movement (like a "Blind Sheikh"). By "coming of age" too soon, it may doom itself to jihadi caricature. That may change in the next 5-10 years as recently convicted Salafist-Jihadis are released from prison, having had many years to study and delve deeper into the justifications for violence. It's hard to predict what if any will be the impact of this cadre of radical American Muslims with prison cred, but I can practically guarantee that it will shock our policy and intelligence communities.