Arrest of American Islamist Highlights Homegrown Terrorist Threat

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 25

On June 6, British authorities arrested Syed “Fahad” Hashmi, a 26 year-old American citizen of Pakistani descent, in London’s Heathrow Airport for his suspected role in aiding an al-Qaeda plot to attack targets in London and delivering military equipment and funds to radical Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The apprehension marked the latest in a series of arrests of alleged radicals with ties to Islamist militants. British security officials apprehended Hashmi as he was preparing to board a plane for Pakistan carrying a large amount of cash (The News, June 25; Daily Times, June 18). He remains in British custody and is currently fighting an extradition request by U.S. authorities. Hashmi holds a British student visa and has been living in Great Britain for the last three years (The Times [London], June 8). The U.S. indictment against him alleges that he and one unnamed associate, believed to be Mohammed Junaid Babar, another U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, convicted for aiding al-Qaeda, conspired to assist al-Qaeda between January 2004 and May 2006 (Dawn, July 9, 2005; Dawn, August 12, 2004). On the surface, Hashmi’s arrest represents a success for joint counter-terrorism efforts in the war against al-Qaeda. Hashmi’s background and turn toward radicalism, however, raises another set of serious concerns related to the growing threat of homegrown Islamist militants in the United States.

Although Hashmi was born in Pakistan, his family moved to the United States when he was a child. He was raised in the neighborhood of Flushing, in the Queens section of New York City. Flushing is one of New York City’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods and includes a sizeable Pakistani immigrant and South Asian Muslim community. Hashmi attended Robert F. Wagner High School in Queens and later enrolled at Stony Brook University on Long Island before transferring to Brooklyn College, where he graduated with a degree in Political Science and was a leading member of a campus Muslim association (New York Daily News, June 10; Dawn, August 12, 2004).

Hashmi is alleged to have links with the New York City branch of the radical al-Muhajiroun (The Emigrants), a militant Islamist organization formerly based in London. The group was founded by Syrian militant Omar Bakri Mohammed as an affiliate of the local branch of the transnational Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party) movement (http://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org). He split with Hizb ut-Tahrir and adopted an increasingly radical stance, especially after the September 11 attacks. Al-Muhajiroun was known for its presence in London and other Western cities and its following among South Asian radicals in Europe (Daily Times, June 18).

Hashmi invited a member of al-Muhajiroun to speak at the campus of Brooklyn College after the September 11 attacks, an event that led to controversy (New York Daily News, June 9). Although al-Muhajiroun has since disbanded, a number of offshoot organizations have emerged to fill the vacuum. These include the radical Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS), which is based in the neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens (http://www.islamicthinkers.com). Hashmi was a known follower of ITS.

Hashmi, who is described by those who knew him as a quiet, bright and caring young man, was formerly affiliated with a mainstream Muslim youth group in the 1990s at the Islamic Circle of North America in Jamaica, Queens (http://www.icna.org). According to one source at the center, Hashmi’s radicalization occurred when he strayed from the Jamaica Center for al-Muhajiroun and that he became a different person as a result. Others say that a trip to London and witnessing the arrest of his cousin during a political rally were what drove him to al-Muhajiroun. Hashmi emerged as one of the group’s top recruiters. He is also alleged to have introduced Mohammed Junaid Babar to the movement. Significantly, Junaid Babar was also raised in Queens, where he attended St. John’s University (New York Daily News, June 9).