On March 2, 2011, Arid Uka reportedly boarded an American military bus carrying soldiers to the Frankfort airport and opened fire on them, killing two and injuring an additional two soldiers who were on their way to serve in Afghanistan.

While some news reports indicate that Uka, an ethnic Albanian Muslim from Kosovo who was born and raised in Germany, had recently become radicalized and sought to carry out a terrorist attack against American forces in retaliation for the American presence in Afghanistan, his motivation remains unclear.Regardless of whether or not Uka is revealed to have been motivated by jihadist sympathies, small scale attacks by individual Muslims against American and Western targets, of the type that Uka carried out, have been strongly encouraged by leading jihadist ideologues and on English-language jihadist forums for jihadist sympathizers in the West.

Incitement for jihadists in the West to engage in individually planned and executed attacks as well as attacks against American military targets around the world have been widespread in recent messages from top al-Qaeda leadership and posts and discussions on influential English-language jihadist forums.Most recently, in an audio message released on February 27, 2011, al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri called for attacks against American targets in retaliation for alleged American support for despotic leaders in the Arab world.In the third audio message of his series “A Message of Hope and Glad Tidings to Our People in Egypt,” Zawahiri incited Egyptians and Tunisians against the United States.The message was preceded by another audio message, released on February 24, 2011, in which Zawahiri exhorted followers to develop innovative methods for attacking Western targets, saying:

“...if we are not able to produce weapons equal to the weapons of the Crusader West, we can sabotage their complex economic and industrial systems and drain their powers, which fight without a cause, until they run away fleeing. Therefore, the mujahideen must invent new ways, ways that never dawned on the minds of the West. An example of this brave and courageous thinking is the use of airplanes as a mighty weapon, as happened in the blessed invasions in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.”[1]

Al-Qaeda’s American spokesman Adam Gadahn (AKA Azzam the American) also urged Muslims to take initiative and carry out acts of individual jihad in states comprising the “Zio-Crusader coalition” allegedly at war with Islam.Gadahn's message was conveyed in a video released on jihadist forums on October 23, 2010 and titled “The Arabs and Muslims: Between the Conferences of Desertion… and the Individual Duty of Jihad.”Calling Muslims, particularly those of Arab origin, to carry out attacks around the world, Gadahn approvingly noted previous domestic attacks and extended the rationale for individual operations against any available target, stating:

“As long as the capability is there, the targets are there, and the enemy strikes us everywhere – and he is an enemy occupier who sets off from his bases in our countries to kill, destroy, bomb and behave immorally – then according to which truth, which form of reason and which religion are the Muslims being forbidden from inflicting death on the senior criminals in every arena and field?”[2]

{Adam Gadahn, “The Arabs and Muslims” / As-Sahab, October 2010}

These calls from the highest level of al-Qaeda have been echoed on jihadist forums in discussions analyzing actions that individual jihadists can take to advance the movement by striking enemy targets.In a July 2010 thread on the English-language Ansar English jihadist forum, the American jihadist Emerson Begolly-- currently imprisoned in the United States[3] -- discussed possible strategies for individual jihadists to successfully carry out attacks in the West.The Ansar al-Mujahideen English forum maintains a substantial membership base of jihadists from around the world, including significant populations of European, North American, and Southeast Asian jihadist sympathizers.In a thread, “Jihad in Dar-ul-Kuffar”, encouraging individuals living in the west to carry out attacks against civilian, police, or military targets, Begolly suggested targets for “the Mujahid who seeks to remain on the down low and does not rush for Shahadah [martyrdom] up front”. Among his proposals for domestic sabotage, arson, and randomized killings, Begolly proposed attacks against police and military service members:

“ Real terrorism, but on a small scale. :: Attacks of civilians or police or government agents or military. Best as single shot, drive by, hit and run, beat down. Who are the best targets? Off duty police, off duty soldiers, gang member, family members of soliders, government agents, workers at ammunition factory, white supremacists or black supremacists. It is best if targeting soliders or police that they are off duty and out of uniform simply because they investigations will look usually for "robbery gone wrong" or "revenge" then an act of terrorism of revolt.”[4]

In the same thread, Begolly noted that domestic attacks have a much greater psychological weight than violence against targets overseas, referencing the Fort Hood shootings, and claimed “even if one American was shot at a recruiting center (as did happen) it would receive [sic] more press coverage (as it did) than a dozen Americans killed in Afghanistan or Iraq.”[5]

{Image: Emerson Begolly}

In addition to explicitly proposing that Western jihadists carry out domestic attacks, one of the most frequent ways in which al-Qaeda leaders have encouraged small-scale attacks against military installations is through expressions of approval and endorsement of Nidal Malik Hasan.Hasan, an American military psychiatrist stationed at Fort Hood, opened fire at the base on November 5, 2009, shortly before he was scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan.[6] His attack killed at least 13 people.Hasan has been regarded in al-Qaeda messages as a “heroic”[7] figure for Western Muslims to emulate, including messages from Anwar al-Awlaki and Adam Gadahn.Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric currently believed to be located in Yemen, has a strong following among Western jihadists and is accused of providing spiritual guidance to both Hasan, and the Christmas Day airplane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.Speaking in an interview released to jihadist forums on May 22, 2010, Awlaki categorically endorsed attacks against American soldiers, particularly those who would be deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq.Addressing criticism of Hasan, Awlaki defended the legitimacy of the shooting, asking rhetorically how anyone could object to Hasan's attack:

“...how can we object to an operation as Nidal Hasan’s operation?! He killed American soldiers who were on their way to Afghanistan and Iraq. Who would object to that?! There is unanimous consent, there is agreement when it comes to this matter...”[8]

{Anwar al-Awlaki, “And to Make it Known and Clear to Mankind” / November 2010}

Reiterating Awlaki's statements encouraging attacks such as the one carried out by Hasan, Adam Gadahn's October 23, 2010 video message praised the actions of Hasan. The message, echoes the language used by Awlaki and strongly reinforces al-Qaeda's support for individually organized attacks against American military targets, praised Hasan's attack as a “heroic act and a great act”. In the message, Gadahn defended Hasan's choice of targets, saying:

“How can we object to an operation like the operation of Nidal Hasan? He killed American soldiers on their way to Afghanistan and Iraq! Who objects to something like this? This is matter on which there is consensus not just among the children of Adam....

“Nidal Hasan is of Palestinian origin: he is defending his nation....What Brother Nidal Hasan did is a heroic act and a great act, and as I said, we pray for him and ask Allah to grant him”[9]

In conclusion, whether or not Uka is found to have been directly motivated by al-Qaeda's ideology and the exhortations of the organization's leadership to attack American military targets, his actions are consistent with operations frequently proposed by both al-Qaeda leaders and Western jihadists.Either through the actions of an individual acting alone or a jihadist cell, others are likely to continue to be inspired by influential jihadist sources who glorify and incite terrorist operations in the West.

[1] SITE Intelligence Group. “Zawahiri Releases Second Audio Series on Egypt”. February 24, 2011.

[2] SITE Intelligence Group. “Al-Qaeda's Adam Gadahn Urges Individual Jihad.” October 23, 2010. https://www.siteintelgroup.com/_layouts/SiteIntel/ApplicationPages/Document.aspx?ID=26942

[3] See: Hanna Siegel. “Nazi Buff Turned Jihadi Allegedly Bites FBI Agents”. ABC News. January 6, 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/nazi-buff-turned-jihadi-allegedly-bites-fbi-agents/story?id=12557232

[5] Ibid.

[6] See: James C. McKinley Jr. “Fort Hood Gunman Gave Signals Before His Rampage”. The New York Times. November 8, 2009.

[7] SITE Intelligence Group. “Al-Qaeda's Adam Gadahn Urges Individual Jihad.” October 23, 2010. https://www.siteintelgroup.com/_layouts/SiteIntel/ApplicationPages/Document.aspx?ID=26942

[9] SITE Intelligence Group. “Al-Qaeda's Adam Gadahn Urges Individual Jihad.” October 23, 2010. https://www.siteintelgroup.com/_layouts/SiteIntel/ApplicationPages/Document.aspx?ID=26942