This month has seen two cases of domestic terrorism break along storylines that have become depressingly familiar. The first, a Muslim immigrant, crafted a very self-styled jihad that aimed at killing his “sinful” neighbors. The second, a U.S. soldier who had suddenly converted to Islam, sought to join the jihad in Africa. While both young men were caught before carrying out their murderous objectives, the cases are cause for concern, despite the death of Osama bin Laden and the apparent decline of al-Qaeda as a fighting force.
Sami Osmakac, arrested on January 7, is an Albanian from Kosovo and a naturalized citizen who lives in the Tampa, Florida area. His trajectory of self-radicalization looks familiar to any who have examined similar cases of this idiosyncratic and alarming phenomenon. Osmakac, twenty-five years old, entered a world of self-styled jihadism, a violent fantasy life which exists more on the Internet than anywhere else. He seems to have developed a murderous loathing for “infidels” as well as for fellow Muslims whom he regarded as insufficiently pious—most Muslims, in other words.
Osmakac adopted the pseudo-Afghan getup, including unkempt beard, that is all the rage among al-Qaeda imitators worldwide. He was recently involved in a scuffle with a Christian preacher—predictably, given the jihadist tendency to self-parody, outside a Lady Gaga concert—and regularly posted angry videos online, de rigueur for the wannabe jihadist. His hateful utterances included the usual clichés: “We all have to die. Why not die the Islamic way?” plus mass-murder fantasies as “payback” for alleged crimes against Muslims.
Osmakac planned mass killings at nightclubs and other venues he considered symbols of his adopted homeland. Fortunately, he was arrested well short of actually pulling any of this off; his antics were known to local Muslims and were apparently reported to the FBI early on. Osmakac also exhibited a lack of common sense: he tried to purchase an al-Qaeda flag at a local store. While it is easy to laugh at these inept antics, which seems like those of the insightful British terrorism comedy film FourLions, the intent was real and frightening.
Much the same can be said about Craig Baxam, who was returned to the United States last week from Kenya after a failed effort to join al-Shabab, the local al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. More than forty Americans, mostly Somali immigrants, are reported to have joined al-Shabab, but Baxam is a native-born American who has served in the U.S. Army.