On Friday, the government indicted eleven men from the D.C. area alleged to have trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous), a formidable Pakistani terrorist group fighting the Indian government in Kashmir. Remarkably, the men were indicted not for planning attacks within the United States, but for participating in a “military expedition” against India. The FBI’s Virginia office is to be commended for demonstrating its awareness of the confluence of Islamic terrorist groups. However, the fact that these men from the United States were able to train with an Islamic terrorist group reveals the grave situation that the civilized world faces in dismantling the global jihadist terrorist network.
Though not ostensibly interested in attacking American targets, the eleven men still comprise a very real and dangerous facet of the global jihad movement that must be recognized in order to combat terrorists effectively and thoroughly. Various jihadist factions may focus on specific areas of the world and can seem as though they have separate goals and values, but they are in fact all interconnected, sharing the same financial resources as well as ideology. The groups reinforce one another, aiding each other as needed, creating a global terrorist network.
The indictment of the eleven individuals never mentions al Qaeda, however al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba are very much connected financially, ideologically, and militarily. On September 12, 2001, Lashkar-e-Taiba claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks, releasing a statement maintaining, “The attacks on the World Trade Centre and other places were not an act of terrorism but an Islamic duty.” Though al Qaeda soon became and was the official perpetrator of the September 11 attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba’s claim of responsibility was not far from the truth.
Lashkar-e-Taiba tends to keep a low profile amongst Americans, but it is one of the most organized and best funded terrorist groups and remains a breeding ground for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The terrorist group has trained thousands of mujahedeen, sending them to areas as diverse as Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, and the Philippines. David Hicks, an Australian who was captured in Afghanistan fighting alongside al Qaeda, trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba before joining the ranks of al Qaeda foot soldiers. Reports of other Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters also indicate that they trained in Afghanistan with the Taliban. Perhaps most telling, al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah was captured in a Lashkar-e-Taiba safe house in Faisalabad in March 2002.
The group, like most other Islamic terrorist groups in the world, shares its roots with al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is the military wing of the religious group, Markaz Dawa Waal Irshad, which had among its founders Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s mentor and original founder of al Qaeda. Azzam, assassinated in 1989 by unknown assailants, traveled the globe spreading his Jihadist ideology, seducing many disaffected men to participate in jihad, for no more than the sake of jihad. Azzam’s most famous quote is no doubt the most telling about his ideology: “Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences, and no dialogues.”
It is this ideology — perhaps mythology — that pervades the Islamic terrorist groups and binds them together in a common cause. That Lakshar-e-Taiba chooses to attack Indians does not remove it from the concern of the United States and the rest of the globe affected by terrorism. Lashkar-e-Taiba, demonstrating the union of the jihadist groups, notably linked on its website to the Hamas official website, the Hezbollah official website, and the English mouthpiece of al Qaeda, Azzam.com.
Recognizing the fluidity between the jihadist groups is integral to understanding the manner in which the terrorist network operates. Thus, while the men arrested were allegedly shooting at Indian positions, they could have easily been recruited to perform a devastating terrorist attack wherever they were needed — even in America. Indeed, Unindicted Co-Conspirator #1 in the indictment “told the conspirators that American troops were legitimate targets of the jihad in which the conspirators had a duty to engage.”
The majority of these men are Americans, some Christian converts who have lived here for their entire lives. They were not indoctrinated in Saudi Arabia or Yemen, but right here in the United States, even practicing military tactics on Virginia paintball courses. They needed a local spiritual adviser to assure them that participating in jihad fulfills their duty as a Muslim. The indictment makes clear that Unindicted Co-Conspirator #1, who seems to have fulfilled this clerical role for the men, “provided historical examples from Islamic history justifying attacks on civilians.” Thus, while the men’s military training took them to faraway Pakistan, their indoctrination was home grown, a testament to how widespread and ubiquitous the terrorist network has become.
In order to defeat this terrorist network, we must dismantle every component. No longer can we turn a blind eye to a terrorist group merely because it mainly operates in another country, nor can we ignore those that exhort people to violence in the name of Islam. The scourge of terrorism is global, and a terrorist trained on the opposite side of the world can easily have come from our backyard, just as these eleven indicted men did.
— Rita Katz, author of Terrorist Hunter, is the director of the SITE Institute, based in Washington, D.C. Josh Devon is a senior analyst at the SITE Institute.