Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the Underwear Bomber, pleaded guilty Wednesday to eight charges including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction for his attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing of an airplane over Detroit.
In a statement reported by the Detroit Free Press, Abdulmutallab said he was “guilty under U.S. law, but not under Islamic law,”and stated his belief that “committing jihad against the United States is one of ’the most virtuous acts' a Muslim can perform.”
The Nigerian man told the FBI he was acting in retaliation for U.S. intervention in Muslim nations, and under the influence of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American imam killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last month.
Many reports have detailed the radicalizing influence of popular preachers like al-Awlaki, and the role of online networks in uniting isolated extremists around the globe under common cause — and common Web domain.
As noted in a recent article by Omar Sacirbey in a story for Religion News Service, al-Awlaki “either influenced or had direct contacts with people involved in 16 of the last 26 cases of domestic terrorism involving Muslims.” From Sacirbey's report:
“While Osama bin Laden may have been the public face of al-Qaeda, al-Awlaki may have had more influence, experts say, especially on impressionable young Muslims in the United States who were groomed into his deadly acolytes.”
“Just as the Internet has given a second career from beyond the grave for radio and TV preachers who are long dead, American Muslims fear al-Awlaki could have as much influence on impressionable young minds in death as he did in life.”
A 2009 Washington Post article that apparently uncovered the online posts of Abdulmutallab showed “his inner struggle as a devout Muslim (vacillating) between liberalism and extremism.” Abdulmutallab not only listened to the radical imam’s sermons but trained in Yemen and may have met with al-Awlaki.
“The jihad movement has moved from the mountains and caves to the bedrooms of every major city around the world,” read one online comment of Zachary Adam Chesser, a Virginia native and convert to Islam who pleaded guilty in 2010 to aiding a terror organization.
The question now is whether al-Awlaki’s death leads to the gradual annihilation of his movement or if radicals will regard him as a martyr. Will, as Sacirbey wrote, the cleric’s message and videos “find eternal life online”?