A Saudi-born American of Pakistani heritage who was raised in Queens, N.Y., was reportedly among those killed in a U.S. drone strike targeting radical cleric and fellow U.S. citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi.
A self-proclaimed traitor to America, Samir Khan contributed to the efforts of al-Qaeda’s Yemen offshoot to promote itself among English-speakers. He was apparently a major force behind the widely-read English-language magazine Inspire, a mixture of ideology, first-person accounts of operations and do-it-yourself jihad advice. Copies of the magazine’s bomb-making and other sections have been found in the possession of several would-be attackers in the U.S. and Britain.
“I am proud to be a traitor to America,” wrote Khan, 25, in an article in the second issue of the online magazine, published in fall last year. He described his life as working in the “jihadi media sector” in North Carolina, before his beliefs turned him into a “rebel of Washington’s imperialism.” He believed FBI agents were watching him in America, including a man who feigned a conversion to Islam, and one who antagonized him, sparking a fist-fight about his online work.
Born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, Khan grew up in Queens before moving with his family to North Carolina in 2004. When he decided to travel to Yemen in October 2009, he did so with little difficulty, which he wrote surprised him: “I mean, I was quiet [sic] open about my beliefs online and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I was al-Qaeda to the core,” he wrote. From Sanaa, he traveled to what he called a mujaheddin base in rural Yemen, where he trained and studied. He wrote, “it only brought me gleeful tears and great joy to hear that America labels me as a terrorist.”
A federal grand jury in Charlotte, N.C., questioned Muslims from the mosque and Islamic center that he attended. His worried father tried to cut off his Internet access and dissuade him from running extremist Web sites, but with little effect.
Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) said authorities had tried stop Khan while he lived in North Carolina. “We tried to shut him down through the FBI but we couldn’t because he was not inciting violence, he was simply putting out information, and because he kept changing his server,” she said.
Myrick described Khan as a loner whose departure for Yemen presented a “very clear red flag.” “He was one of the key people in recruiting and radicalizing Americans and that is of great concern to me but he was a misguided young person and really no one celebrates this death,” Myrick said.
He is believed to have edited seven issues of Inspire magazine while in Yemen, which devoted much space to the thoughts of Aulaqi. In an interview Friday, former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who served eight years on the House intelligence committee, said Aulaqi and Khan had “targeted Americans directly, they inspired others to kill Americans.”