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How An American Cleric Inspires Jihad From Beyond The Grave

Anwar al-Awlaki's influence continues in jihadist forums, years after his death

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The specter of Awlaki's influence continues across the Internet still — Getty Images
Sep 22, 2016 at 3:10 PM ET

“The Americans tried to kill him to stop his influence, but the light of the knowledge he spread hasn’t faded away!” This was the reaction in a closed Telegram group with the name “Imam Anwar al-Awlaki,” after news reports that the man suspected of carrying out the Chelsea bombing last week mentioned the American cleric in a diary confiscated by authorities after he was taken into custody.

Ahmad Rahami, the 28-year-old of Afghan descent is charged with planting bombs in New York and New Jersey and wounding 31 people in the attack. He was arrested after a manhunt that ended when he was shot and wounded by police, a blood-soaked notebook in his possession.

According to news reports and images of the notebook uploaded by media Rahimi made remarks in his notebook pertaining to jihad. He mentioned ‘Dawla,’ Arabic for ‘state’ and shorthand among supporters of the Islamic State. He mentioned “Brother Adnani,” a reference to ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani who was killed recently in a U.S airstrike. The Long War Journal said that in one part of the notebook Rahami wrote: “I looked for guidance and…Guidance came from Sheikh Anwar…Said it clearly attack the Kuffar (infidels) in their backyard,” referring to calls by Anwar al-Awlaki for attacks against Americans in the homeland.

Almost five years after he was killed by a U.S drone airstrike in Yemen, the American cleric from San Diego is still considered “the father of the American Jihad.” He allegedly helped to radicalize a generation of English-speaking militants, among them the attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon brother bombers and Omar Mateen, who earlier this year was responsible for the deadly shooting rampage in Orlando.

Awlaki was also the man behind al-Qaeda’s Inspire Magazine, that exhorts would-be jihadists to action with articles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” and included recipes for pressure-cooker bombs, similar to those found in New York and New Jersey last weekend.

Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert and author, and director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told Vocativ following the Orlando shooting that “in the world of jihad, Awlaki is the gift that keeps on giving, because he has been able to recruit more Westerners to the cause than Osama bin Laden ever did.”

His influence is still strong. A different English-speaking group on Telegram named “Inspire the Believers” celebrated the reports about bombs in New York and New Jersey, saying: “This is our brother Ahmad, Suspected of 2 Blasts inside the US, and reportedly injured 2 NYPD dudes! Thank God, they kill for the sake of Allah!”

Vocativ found dozens of channels and pages on social media that still circulate Awlaki’s words on YouTube, have fan pages for him on Facebook and hundreds of posts sharing his messages about jihad and Islam on Instagram.

One of the most popular channels that focuses on him on YouTube includes his lectures on “the meaning of jihad,” “the meaning of Islam,” and “the uniqueness of Shaheed (a martyr).”

A Facebook group named “Generation Awlaki” has more than 2,000 members and says it is “dedicated to the Works & Message of Shaykh Anwar Al Awlaki to keep them alive among the young Generation.” 

The post on Telegram: