American Jihadi

The death of Samir Khan in Yemen marks the end of a key figure in the Internet jihad.

AARON Y. ZELIN

Ever since the first issue of Inspire magazine, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language publication, released in late June 2010, Samir Khan became a household name in the counterterrorism community. His work in the jihadi community, though, started a decade earlier in the streets of New York City.

Khan, who was reportedly killed in an airstrike in Yemen on Friday, Sept. 30, alongside his mentor, Anwar al-Awlaki, was not a religious authority. But he helped create the media architecture of the American online jihadi community, an Internet incubator for radicalization.

Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Khan’s family moved to New York City in 1993 when Samir was 7. When he was 15, Khan attended a camp sponsored by the nonviolent yet fundamentalist Islamic Organization of North America. There he first came into contact with members of the Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS), a rebranding of an offshoot of the British-based jihadi organization Al-Muhajiroun, that first expanded into New York in 2000. As such, the ITS is one of the longest-running organizations in the United States that sympathizes with the jihadi message — though it does so through nonviolent aims such as "street dawahs." That said, the ITS has made many connections to the global jihad over the years.

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