Al Qaeda recruiter turned FBI informant forged ‘intensive’ links with anti-Western Australian preachers
Six years after two passenger jets slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, a new kind of hostile terror threat rose in New York.
Designed to spread the vengeful ideology of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, a website named Revolution Muslim (RM) was quietly launched into cyberspace in 2007 out of a Brooklyn apartment.
The RM platform, which would forge potentially deadly links with some of Australia’s most notorious anti-Western Muslim preachers, was a precursor to Islamic State’s slick online propaganda machine.
Its mission, while pushing US freedom of speech legislation to extreme limits, was to radicalise and recruit vulnerable young English-speaking men in the West into becoming jihadists.
RM was the brainchild of New Yorker Jesse Morton and Yousef al-Khattab, two American men who had converted to Islam. Both Al Qaeda recruiters would later be hunted down by American counter-terror agencies, with Morton captured in Morocco after fleeing US soil. The pair were charged with soliciting murder through their RM network.
“My organisation was the first to unashamedly promote the Al Qaeda world view on the streets of the United States,” Morton, 39, told nine.com.au on the phone from his Washington D.C. base.
Morton is no longer an Al Qaeda recruiter. While in prison he became an informant for the FBI, and now fights for the other side in the war on terror.
“I was much more harmful than a fringe extremist who wanted to travel abroad to join the frontlines or carry out attacks at home.”
Morton reckoned “tens of people [have been] killed” as a result of his work, pumping out the Al Qaeda doctrine to potential lone wolves and others susceptible to the idea of fighting in the Middle East.
Famously, Morton called for attacks on South Park creators. He was also blamed for inciting Colleen LaRose, known as Jihad Jane, to attempt to kill a Swedish cartoonist. There were others who had fallen under his influence, including the plotter of a New York City bombing.
“I was a prolific and popular figure,” Morton said, explaining the kind of power he wielded in the eyes of vulnerable men he set out to transform into “jihadi lions”.
“I was a white guy with blue eyes that converted to Islam. I understood the religion and could speak Arabic.” A learned student of politics and economics, and with a Masters degree from prestigious Columbia University, Morton said, “I could synthesise a very dangerous message.”
Morton claimed to have impacted “most of the people” who went on to become high-level propagandists for Islamic State’s media machine. Two of Morton’s recruiting and motivating peers, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both US citizens, were killed by an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011. He was friends with Anjem Chaudary, an extremist firebrand preacher jailed in the UK over his support for IS.
Morton’s carefully crafted propaganda reached Australian shores, where it was hoped several key local figures would help do Al Qaeda’s bidding in Australia’s major cities.
Between 2007 and 2010, Morton told nine.com.au he had “very intensive contact” with a handful of prominent men in the Australian Muslim community known for their hardened anti-Western preaching, and links to terror groups such as Al Qaeda and IS.
Nine.com.au cannot identify two of those men; one because of legal reasons; the other man named by Morton is a Wahhabist sheikh in Australia, believed to lecture regularly at a popular city mosque. However, that sheikh appeared to have “gone more silent” in recent times, according to Morton.
But a shadowy individual who can be named is Egyptian-born Australian Muslim, Abu Sulayman.
Sulayman, a 34-year-old raised in Sydney’s southern suburbs, is now believed to be Australia’s most senior ranking member in Al Qaeda. In 2012 Sulayman defected to Syria, where he took up a senior posting with Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s offshoot branch in Syria.
Morton said Sulayman was “very prolific” cross-posting propaganda from RM, perhaps reinforcing the possibility that an Al Qaeda sleeper cell existed in Australia post-9/11.
After his capture in Morocco in 2011 and extradition to the US, Morton was sentenced to 11 and a half years in prison. Behind bars, the trajectory of his life changed.
Eleven months in solitary confinement forced Morton to “sit with myself” and contemplate his predicament and mindset. Luck intervened, too. A prison guard let Morton into the prison’s law library for 10 hours each day. He was supposed to only spend one of every 24 hours outside his cell. There, he read books of enlightenment, philosophy texts and biographies of the founding fathers.
He also got a huge break when the FBI offered him the chance to become an informant. His mandatory sentence was slashed and he was released in 2015. Following his release, Morton secured a high-profile posting with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. It was believed Morton could help governments understand and fight the radicalisation of youth.
A new study, When Terrorists Come Home, co-authored by Morton and a former NYPD counter-terror official, investigates how jihadist prisoners can be returned safely has just been released.
It is vital to rehabilitate violent extremists, Morton said. Many offenders are young men with a long life ahead once they leave prison.
In 2010, the US government estimated that approximately 20 percent of former Guantanamo Bay detainees were suspected of re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities.
Source: 9 News