Najibullah Zazi: Genome of the Homegrown Jihadist

Najibullah Zazi is not just an "isolated extremist" caught in September 2009 while crossing a New York bridge with plans to bomb few tunnels -- end of the story. Zazi's "jihad" story is way more than the impressive facts the Justice Department has already revealed. If we focus more on the journey of this determined jihadist, we would discover that one of the "genomes" of homegrown terror. In this essay, I'll only follow the government's release:

The Justice Department announced that Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty in a "conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States" in connection with al-Qaeda. His main attack targeted the New York subway system.

1. Location: "Zazi is a resident of Aurora, Colorado." Urban jihadists aren't found only in mega-cities and their suburbs, like the Virginia Paintball cell of 2002. They are also found in medium cities, towns, and small towns. They can also be found in the countryside, as in the North Carolina case of 2009. It is not a "city social problem," but an ideological one.

2. Age: "Zazi is 25." A reminder that the age group Najibullah belongs to was the teenage generation on 9/11. As in the cases of Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida, the question is: Who is indoctrinating young Americans and immigrants at such an early stage?

3. National Background: "Zazi is a legal permanent resident of the US from Afghanistan." While other jihadists come from a variety of countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Pakistan, and beyond, the ethno-national parameter isn't applicable as much as it was asserted before. It is the doctrine, not the origin, that stands behind these acts of terror.  

4. Decision to wage jihad: "Zazi admitted during the guilty plea allocution, he and others agreed to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and fight against United States and allied forces ..., they were recruited by al-Qaeda after arriving in Peshawar." This statement shows that Zazi and his companions have already made the decision, based on their previous indoctrination, to join the Taliban, and then al-Qaeda. This means that an ideological machine is creating the jihadists here in the U.S. before the graduates decide to join the ship of their choice.  

5. Training and reinserting

The statement said that "al-Qaeda transported Zazi and others to the Waziristan region of Pakistan and trained them on several different kinds of weapons, asked them to conduct suicide operations in the US. Zazi had discussions with al-Qaeda leaders about target locations, including subway trains in New York City."

These facts describe the path of an indoctrinated young man in America to become a weaponized terrorist overseas. Note that during all that time, the jihadists trained by al-Qaeda were still not detected in the U.S. The question is: How many similar Zazis are there being trained and reinserted in the U.S.? 

6. Taqiya insertion  

"Taqiya" in modern times is the jihadi method of deceit. The government said, "Zazi returned to the United States in January 2009 and moved to Denver; began reviewing the bomb-making notes from his training and conducting research on where to buy the ingredients for the explosives.  Zazi then traveled to New York and met with others to discuss the plan, including the timing of the attack and where to make the explosives." 

After having been indoctrinated, connected with al Qaeda, received training, devised attack plans, returned to the U.S., and moved to Denver, he still wasn't detected -- not as a member of  al-Qaeda, or even at least as a jihadi. More dramatic, he connected with other undetected jihadists in New York and planned the last steps. How many other jihadists have been successful in being reinserted in the U.S. or recruited by returnees?

The last step before the act was the operational part, where Zazi and the jihadi cell were on their last prep before the strikes. Regardless of the ideology or the identification of the enemy, this is the segment where the challenge is strictly a law enforcement and counterterrorism (CT) one. How many jihadists have already traveled the journey of indoctrination, training, reinserting, and early stages of preparing for similar operations? In these cases, our law enforcement and CT resources are meeting the jihadists in the very last stage.

Aside from its legal aspects, the Zazi case shows that America is being penetrated by a network that is producing the jihadists, whether as lone wolves or in cells. The latter come about once the ideologically self-conscious are on their own and move forward to their irreversible task: to connect with the mothership and strike back at America. We are meeting them in the last stage. 

Dr Walid Phares is an academic adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.
Najibullah Zazi is not just an "isolated extremist" caught in September 2009 while crossing a New York bridge with plans to bomb few tunnels -- end of the story. Zazi's "jihad" story is way more than the impressive facts the Justice Department has already revealed. If we focus more on the journey of this determined jihadist, we would discover that one of the "genomes" of homegrown terror. In this essay, I'll only follow the government's release:

The Justice Department announced that Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty in a "conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States" in connection with al-Qaeda. His main attack targeted the New York subway system.

1. Location: "Zazi is a resident of Aurora, Colorado." Urban jihadists aren't found only in mega-cities and their suburbs, like the Virginia Paintball cell of 2002. They are also found in medium cities, towns, and small towns. They can also be found in the countryside, as in the North Carolina case of 2009. It is not a "city social problem," but an ideological one.

2. Age: "Zazi is 25." A reminder that the age group Najibullah belongs to was the teenage generation on 9/11. As in the cases of Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida, the question is: Who is indoctrinating young Americans and immigrants at such an early stage?

3. National Background: "Zazi is a legal permanent resident of the US from Afghanistan." While other jihadists come from a variety of countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Pakistan, and beyond, the ethno-national parameter isn't applicable as much as it was asserted before. It is the doctrine, not the origin, that stands behind these acts of terror.  

4. Decision to wage jihad: "Zazi admitted during the guilty plea allocution, he and others agreed to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and fight against United States and allied forces ..., they were recruited by al-Qaeda after arriving in Peshawar." This statement shows that Zazi and his companions have already made the decision, based on their previous indoctrination, to join the Taliban, and then al-Qaeda. This means that an ideological machine is creating the jihadists here in the U.S. before the graduates decide to join the ship of their choice.  

5. Training and reinserting

The statement said that "al-Qaeda transported Zazi and others to the Waziristan region of Pakistan and trained them on several different kinds of weapons, asked them to conduct suicide operations in the US. Zazi had discussions with al-Qaeda leaders about target locations, including subway trains in New York City."

These facts describe the path of an indoctrinated young man in America to become a weaponized terrorist overseas. Note that during all that time, the jihadists trained by al-Qaeda were still not detected in the U.S. The question is: How many similar Zazis are there being trained and reinserted in the U.S.? 

6. Taqiya insertion  

"Taqiya" in modern times is the jihadi method of deceit. The government said, "Zazi returned to the United States in January 2009 and moved to Denver; began reviewing the bomb-making notes from his training and conducting research on where to buy the ingredients for the explosives.  Zazi then traveled to New York and met with others to discuss the plan, including the timing of the attack and where to make the explosives." 

After having been indoctrinated, connected with al Qaeda, received training, devised attack plans, returned to the U.S., and moved to Denver, he still wasn't detected -- not as a member of  al-Qaeda, or even at least as a jihadi. More dramatic, he connected with other undetected jihadists in New York and planned the last steps. How many other jihadists have been successful in being reinserted in the U.S. or recruited by returnees?

The last step before the act was the operational part, where Zazi and the jihadi cell were on their last prep before the strikes. Regardless of the ideology or the identification of the enemy, this is the segment where the challenge is strictly a law enforcement and counterterrorism (CT) one. How many jihadists have already traveled the journey of indoctrination, training, reinserting, and early stages of preparing for similar operations? In these cases, our law enforcement and CT resources are meeting the jihadists in the very last stage.

Aside from its legal aspects, the Zazi case shows that America is being penetrated by a network that is producing the jihadists, whether as lone wolves or in cells. The latter come about once the ideologically self-conscious are on their own and move forward to their irreversible task: to connect with the mothership and strike back at America. We are meeting them in the last stage. 

Dr Walid Phares is an academic adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.

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