Muslim extremists with ties to al Qaeda have been using Massachusetts and the city of Boston as a jihadi headquarters since at least 1993, according to a recent report by a top terrorism analyst.
At least 26 residents were found to have ties to al Qaeda, according to the report by the Henry Jackson Society. The activity dates from before the Tsarnaev brothers, radical Muslim immigrants to the United States, were identified as the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Jihadist activity has taken place in Massachusetts since at least 1993 and includes in-state fundraising for terrorism, “those convicted of planning jihad, and even those who have been killed while fighting abroad,” according to the report by terrorism analyst Robin Simcox.
“The city [of Boston] and state of Massachusetts has a long history of ties to AQ [al Qaeda] and AQ-inspired militancy,” the report states.
“Even prior to last week’s Boston bombing, there had been twenty six individuals with links to Massachusetts connected to AQ [al Qaeda] and AQ-inspired terrorism,” the report states. “Fifteen had lived in Massachusetts, with eleven 9/11 hijackers using the Boston area as a temporary base from which to launch their attacks.”
The report provides a window into Massachusetts’ struggles with terrorists as the city of Boston grapples with the Tsarvaev brothers’ deadly acts.
“While the motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers are still partially unclear, the tragic events in Boston last week should still be viewed in the context of the ongoing threat that Massachusetts has faced from AQ and AQ-inspired militancy,” the report states.
Boston’s proximity to New York City and other sites seen as prime targets for attack make it attractive to terrorists, according to the report’s author.
“Part of Boston’s connection to terrorism is due to a geographical quirk—the fact that it was a convenient base from which the 9/11 operatives could launch their attack on New York,” Simcox said in an interview. “However, there is no one specific reason that so many examples of jihadist activity have occurred in and around the Boston area.”
It is important for Boston residents to remain vigilant in the weeks and months to come, Simcox said.
“It is impossible to discount the assumption that extremist groups in and around Boston may still pose an increased terrorist threat, especially considering Boston’s decades of connection to jihadist activity,” he said.
Radicalized individuals such as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev—ethnic Chechens who at this writing have not been directly tied to any particular jihadist group—have become America’s prime threat, the report states.
“As the Boston bombings would appear to show, the al-Qaeda inspired threat is ongoing, and should be treated with the utmost seriousness,” the report concludes.
As the investigation into the bombers continues, there is increasing evidence that both Chechen brothers were motivated by al Qaeda’s radical ideology.
Tamerlan “is thought to have become increasingly radicalised in recent years which, in 2011, led to the FBI interviewing him—seemingly at the request of the Russian government, who were concerned about perceived increased radicalism,” the report notes.
“A YouTube account created in his name in August 2012 included in its playlist a video dedicated to the Black Banners of Khursan, traditionally the black flag of Muslim armies now appropriated by jihadist groups,” according to the report.
Tamerlan’s YouTube page also features an interview with Feiz Muhammad, an Australian cleric known for preaching radical dogma. A playlist on the page is titled “Terrorists.”
Boston itself has become home to several extremist groups and individuals who have either plotted attacks against the United States or funneled money to terrorist enterprises, according to the report.
One such group, Care International, was engaged in “fundraising, recruiting, and providing other forms of logistical support for violent jihad.”
Care was founded in 1993 in Boston and “solicited funds and support for mujahideen fighters and jihadist causes, including Bosnia and Chechnya,” according to the report.
Care was found to have direct ties to the Al Kifah Refugee Center, the U.S. branch of Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), an organization founded in part by Osama bin Laden to combat Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
“Prior to 9/11, the fact that Care International was based in Boston is significant,” Simcox noted in a subsequent interview.
At least three individuals were later convicted for having ties to Care and its radical activities, the report found.
Emadeddin Muntasser, a Libyan citizen who founded Care, was convicted in 2008 along with two other Massachusetts residents for falsifying IRS documents and failing to disclose that Care “was engaged in soliciting funds and support for mujahideen fighters and jihad,” according to the report.
Muntasser and his compatriots raised $1.7 million in tax-exempt donations that were designated to be used “for ‘mujahideen’, ‘fighters’, ‘martyrs’, and ‘Jihad’,” and other terrorist causes, according to the report.
Additionally, Care published a newsletter, Al-Hussam (or “The Sword”), which proclaimed itself as Boston’s “authentic source of information about ‘Jihad action.’”
Al-Hussam regularly included “instructions such as, ‘Fight them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, and disgrace them, and help you (to victory) over them,’” according to the report.
“Boston offers more martyrs,” one March 1993 article in Al-Hussam announced. It detailed the jihadist acts of Morabit Yahya, a Moroccan immigrant “who was described at the fourth recruit from the Boston area who went to fight jihad in Afghanistan,” the report found.
The magazine ceased publishing in 1997.
Another Boston transplant who became enmeshed in a terrorist plot to kill Americans is Abdel Ghani Meskini, who pleaded guilty in March 2001 to charges stemming from a plot to attack Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve 1999.
“In 1994, Meskini left Algeria for Boston, and subsequently moved between Boston and Brooklyn due to the fact that he could not stay in one place too long for fear of being arrested,” the report notes.
Several Massachusetts-based terrorists were found in the years following the 9/11 attacks.
Aafia Siddiqui was a Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) student who lived in Cambridge, Mass. She was convicted in 2010 of having ties to al Qaeda, as well as “for attempting to murder U.S. officers and employees in Afghanistan, and for assaulting the FBI agent, U.S. Army officer, and interpreter who tried to stop her,” according to the report.
Before her arrest, Siddiqui established the Institute of Islamic Research and Teaching in Roxbury, just minutes outside downtown Boston.
Another Boston-area jihadist is Tarek Mehanna, who was raised in Sudbury, Mass., flew from Boston to the United Arab Emirates in February 2004 along with several jihadist associates. The group planned to “fight jihad, preferably in Iraq,” the report states.
Mehanna, who was convicted in 2011 on terrorist charges, “taught religion and science at the Alhuda Academy in Worcester, and studied a PhD in Pharmacy at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services in Boston.”
Mehanna’s jihadist colleague, Ahmad Abousamra, “resided in Mansfield, Massachusetts, and remains a fugitive,” according to the report.
Al Qaeda’s extremist materials have circulated so widely that the group no longer needs to manage potential terrorists, analyst Simcox said.
“The Boston bombings are further proof that radicalized individuals don’t need oversight from senior al Qaeda planners in order to carry out terrorist attacks,” Simcox said. “These attacks will be smaller in scale and less deadly than something like 9/11, but also harder to stop.”
The Boston Police Department and the FBI did not respond to a request for comment about the report and efforts to combat radicalized individuals living in Massachusetts.