WASHINGTON – How to spot the jihadis next door when they might seem perfectly normal?
The average person should not have to bear that responsibility, one of the nation's top experts on radical Islamic infiltration, former Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst Philip Haney, told WND.
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That should be the job of the professionals.
But consider this unnerving scenario.
It may have been shocking when nine people accused of supporting the Islamic State, or ISIS, were recently arrested in the posh suburbs of Northern Virginia, so close to Washington, D.C.
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But it may be even more disturbing, upon closer inspection, that so many of them seemed so normal, not fitting what most Americans might consider the profile of a supporter of jihad.
For starters, one was named Heather Coffman. Another was Nicholas Young.
As the Washington Times reported: "They included a police officer, a Starbucks barista, Army soldiers, bankers and a cabdriver. Four of the nine graduated from Northern Virginia high schools, one with honors. Two attended Northern Virginia Community College."
Authorities suspected them of planning terrorism planning on Twitter, Facebook, Skype and other social media.
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One of the nation’s top Middle East experts, Clare Lopez, told WND, "These nine arrests highlight once again that Islam is not a race: It's a global political system of societal control bound by law, Islamic law, with some associated religious practices, that is achieved by conquest and maintained by force, not by consent of the governed."
Lopez is the vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy, a former CIA operations officer, instructor for military intelligence and Special Forces students, and intelligence analyst within the defense sector.
She further observed, "Nor is devotion to Islam limited to those of less education, lower economic status, or lack of opportunity. In fact, quite the opposite is often true, as with these would-be jihadis for the Islamic State."
When potential Islamic terrorists have names that don't seem Islamic, are well educated, have careers and seem typically middle class, how is the average American supposed to spot the jihadi next door?
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They can't. And they shouldn't have to. That should be the job of the professionals, according to Haney, former Islamic radical expert for the Department of Homeland Security, and co-author of WND Books' bestseller "See Something, Say Nothing".
"The sad fact is that the average person shouldn't have to worry about this at all," lamented Haney. "We were told if you see something, say something. But do you have any idea what you're supposed to be looking for? Or if you see it, what you're supposed to say? No."
"You were just given the slogan. Be vigilant, be diligent. But what for? And then, God help you if you actually do say something, because every time somebody does report something it turns into a fiasco like "clock boy," he added with a rueful chuckle.
Haney is a retired Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, frontline officer and intelligence expert who studied Arabic culture and language, and specialized in Islamic theology and the strategy and tactics of the global Islamic movement.
When he tried to alert superiors about threats to the nation during the Obama administration, his intelligence information was eliminated and he was investigated by his own agency. Haney, who had won numerous awards and commendations, was exonerated and retired in July 2015.
"Our own policy is incoherent," Haney asserted. "So you can't blame the average person in America for not being able to comprehend what's going on. Because they been misled and misinformed for the last eight years. So I don't blame anybody, the common average person, for having a hard time figuring it out."
The former ace intelligence officer told WND people are confused and upset because no one has told them what the real nature of the threat is.
He noted how the Obama administration has made it almost impossible to identify the real threat because it has claimed we are not at war with Islam, we're not necessarily at war with the Taliban, al-Qaida is on the run and ISIS is the junior varsity.
"Average Americans are also upset we have to talk about it at all, because they thought that was what DHS was for, to protect Americans from threats both foreign and domestic," continued Haney.
The government kept telling Americans to say something if they see something, but it wouldn't tell them what they were looking for, he maintained.
That's because, Haney said, the administration "started deleting this kind of information out of the system clear back in 2009, right after Obama got settled into office and began to develop what became known as the Countering Violent Extremism Policy," which denied any relationship between Islamic ideology and terrorism.
"Now we have the mess we have today," mused Haney.
If spotting jihadis in the suburbs should not be the job of the average American, given his expertise, what did Haney think the professionals should be doing?
"We were trained to discern trends," the former intelligence specialist responded.
"The first thing I noticed is that three of them went to Northern Virginia Community College. The three of them attending that same college is more than a statistical anomaly. Which means it's very likely there are other people than those discussed in the report of the nine individuals who were, or are, under active investigation.
"The likeliness that the three of them went to Northern Virginia Community College didn't know each other, and or weren't involved with other individuals there, is virtually zero," he maintained.
"Which would then," Haney continued, "lead me to look at the Islamic organizations on campus. Without even looking, I would suspect that it includes the Muslims Students Association."
WND confirmed it does.
The next thing Haney would expect would be a mosque at the college, adding, "One of the two is probably a 100 percent certain probability."
Indeed, the small campus has what it calls an online "virtual" mosque. Haney said mosques usually serve as the center of gravity for jihadi rings, but other organizations can be important.
"The Muslim Students Association is one of the largest Muslim brotherhood front groups in the United States," he continued. "It's actually the very first Muslim brotherhood organization founded here in the early '60s. It subsequently became the parent organization of the Islamic Society of North America, which is the largest open, public front group for the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States."
However, Haney observed, while the nine suspects were being tried for supporting the Islamic State, it wasn't ISIS that actually attracted them.
"The ideology, the force of gravity, that's pushing them forward is generated here. It's just that ISIS provides them with a magnet, in order to implement the ideology that they are being taught here. Very likely, in a mosque."
"So," he concluded, "my first concern would be the mosque at that community college or the mosques that the other suspects attended. This is not a random thing. It's highly probable that a significant number of those nine knew each other."
Haney said that as related cases goes forward investigators should be looking at the suspects' affiliations, which was what he used to do at DHS.
"Because I can guarantee you they did not self-radicalize," he bluntly asserted.
"They are in an environment of saturated ideology. And those caught in Northern Virginia are just some of the ones who have taken the most open steps. There any number of other people who have taken less open steps, in terms of supporting the global jihad."
He added: "They weren't caught because they did not travel overseas, for example. Or they didn't provide money to somebody to travel overseas. However, they are actively involved in the overall process."
Haney said there is one basic underlying question that too often is not even asked.
"Why are they doing it?"
"It's not jihad they are attracted to, per se," he said. "Jihad is only a tactic. So what is the tactic for? What is the purpose of it all? What is the purpose of ISIS? What is the purpose of the Muslim Students Association? What is the purpose of the mosque? In that sense, it's the same for all: promotion of Shariah law."
Haney called Shariah law "the gravitational force of the entire global Islamic community."
"Whether it's in Northern Virginia or northern Syria. All of the jihad and violent attacks that we've been seen around the world are not arbitrary. They are motivated by unifying ideology which exists everywhere in the world with the Muslim community is established.
"Implementation of Shariah law, that's the point of it all. That's the strategy. Jihad is a tactic."
That's why, Lopez told WND, "National security and local law enforcement officers must be trained to recognize the warning markers that indicate someone is on the pathway to jihad. That training begins with an understanding of what Islam is, as well as a good understanding of Islamic doctrine, law and scripture, all of which obligate a faithful Muslim to jihad.
"Local law enforcement officers must be backed up solidly by DHS and the Justice Department to carry out their lawful duties to enforce laws against material support to terrorism, racketeering and sedition," she added.
Haney noted one thing not mentioned in the report was the nationality or immigration status of the suspects.
"In the old days, we actually determined the identity of the people we followed and gave them an immigrant number that stuck with them like a Social Security number, no matter how many times they changed their name."
He said suspects would change their names quite often, but investigators could always find out who they really were because of that number.
"But the whole system has totally collapsed. Now, it's going to seem radical to reconstruct it and actually enforce the law the way we used to do it in the first few years after 9/11, when we actually did track these people based on their true identity. And if they violated the law, we would deport them. But those days are long gone."
Maybe they are coming back, WND suggested.
"I hope so," was the soft but heartfelt reply.
The Washington Times obtained the following profiles of the nine suspects issued by the Northern Virginia Regional Intelligence Center in a report released on Dec. 21. Six have already pleaded guilty. The paper published these blurbs:
- Ali Shukir Amin. He pleaded guilty to providing support to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) and was sentenced to 136 months in prison. An honors student at Osbourn Park High School, Amin wrote a pro-Islamic State blog, had a Twitter account with 7,000 tweets and instructed people on how to use bitcoin to hide money transfers and on how to travel to Syria.
- Reza Niknejad. Also an Osbourn Park student who was attending Northern Virginia Community College, Niknejad, aided by Amin, traveled to Syria in 2015. He was charged in absentia.
- Heather Coffman. She pleaded guilty to making a false statement concerning involvement in international terrorism and was sentenced to 54 months in prison. She joined the Army but was discharged after four months, and later worked as a sales clerk. She operated multiple Facebook accounts to promote the Islamic State and shared terrorism contacts with possible recruits.
- Joseph Hassan Farrokh. He pleaded guilty this year to attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State and received 102 months in prison. He provided $600 to a friend to travel to Syria and attempted to be a foreign fighter.
- Mahmound Amin Mohamed Elhassan. He pleaded guilty in October to aiding Farrokh and lying about his involvement in international terrorism. He spoke openly of supporting the Islamic State and its violence. He had attended Northern Virginia Community College and worked for Starbucks.
- Mohamad Jamal Khweis. He was arrested in Turkey on charges of conspiring to help the Islamic State. His trial begins in April. He graduated from Edison High School and worked for two banks and Highgate Hotels. He traveled to Syria in 2015 to become a foreign fighter before having second thoughts and escaping.
- Mohammad Bilor Jalloh. He pleaded guilty in October to trying to help the Islamic State. He had served as a combat engineer in the Virginia National Guard and worked for consulting firms. He met with Islamic State members in Africa and tried to buy firearms to carry out a Fort Hood-style massacre.
- Haris Qatar. He also pleaded guilty to charges of helping the Islamic State. He attended Northern Virginia Community College and worked for Wells Fargo. He created 60 Twitter handles for Islamic State propaganda and stalked residences in Northern Virginia that were on the group’s “kill lists.” He was preparing to make a video encouraging people to carry out “lone wolf” attacks around Washington.
- Nicholas Young. The oldest of the nine at 36, he has been charged with helping the Islamic State but has not faced trial. He graduated from West Potomac High School and worked as a Metro police officer. He is accused of stockpiling weapons at his home. According to authorities, he traveled to Libya and gave advice to Islamic State followers on how to avoid law enforcement monitoring.