On Monday morning Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad drove his black SUV up to the front of a military recruiting center in Little Rock and opened fire with an SKS assault rifle, killing one recruiter and seriously injuring another before driving off. Like the conspirators in the recent planned attacks in New York and Florida and other terrorists plots like the Virginia Jihad Network case in 2003, Muhammad was an African-American convert to Islam with a history of attempting to contact terrorist groups in the middle east. Unlike the conspirators in other recent cases he is believed to have acted alone.
Muhammad, who legally changed his name just over a month ago from Carlos Bledsoe, was arraigned Tuesday on one count of first-degree murder and 15 counts of engaging in a terrorist act. He entered a plea of not guilty.
Like the terrorists in the other two recent cases, Muhammad was under investigation by the FBI, but in this case they were unable to intervene to prevent the attack. Covert intervention was made more difficult because Muhammad was acting alone rather than as part of a group. Muhammad drew the attention of the FBI when he traveled to Yemen and was arrested by local authorities for using a forged Somali passport. His possession of the forged documents suggests some contact with terrorist groups in the region. While in Yemen he may have been studying with radical Salafi scholar Yahya Hajoori who is part of a group which has trained other Americans involved in jihadist activity.
Like other recent domestic Muslim terrorists, Muhammad specifically targeted the military because of anger over the deaths of Muslims at the hands of the US military in the middle east. After the arraignment prosecutor Larry Jegley observed: “It’s my understanding that after his conversion to Islam he decided that he had a bone to pick with the military officers because of what he perceived to be mistreatment of Muslims around the world.” The arrest report states that at the time of his arrest he commented that “he would have killed more soldiers if they had been on the parking lot.”
Walid Phares of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies observed that “The real common denominator is the ideological commitment (present) in every single case I’ve seen over the past few months and over the past few years.” Noting that most converts to Islam are peaceful, but there is a clearly defined element with common background characteristics who are attracted to extremist ideology.
In an interview with FOX News terrorism expert Niall Livingstone said “Most of these guys…are misfits, they believe they’ve suffered injustice…they basically are striking back at society.” He went on to explain that this is why so many seem to come from criminal backgrounds or to have been converted to Islam in prison.
Although police stated that Muhammad is believed to have been acting alone, files discovered on his home computer suggest that he may have been in contact with other potential terrorists and had a plan to attack additional targets, including other military recruiting centers, schools and Jewish synagogues.
Although there have been very few successful terrorist attacks within the United States since the attack on the World Trade Center, the number of American converts traveling to Islamic nations for training is significant, and the number of plots which have been uncovered and the suggestion of networks tying them to international terror activity raises serious concerns.
The FBI has been very successful at uncovering plots and deporting suspects who are not United States citizens, but although that may disrupt some activity by these groups, many of the potential terrorists are US citizens like Muhammad, and when they act alone and give off few obvious signs of involvement with radical groups they are very hard to track.