American soldier Naser Abdo was arrested near the Fort Hood military base on July 27, 2011, after arousing the suspicion of a clerk at a local weapons and ammunition store. 

Following his arrest, Abdo allegedly claimed that he was intending to carry out an attack against a restaurant in Killeen, Texas, that is popular with off-duty soldiers from the Fort Hood military base. Abdo was found to have weapons and bomb components in the hotel room in which he was staying. In the year before his arrest, Abdo had previously made headlines as a Muslim soldier who, after enlisting in the military, began to believe that serving in the American military while it was engaged in wars in Muslim countries ran counter to the tenets of his faith.  In the summer and fall of 2010, Abdo sought to avoid deployment to Afghanistan and engaged in a campaign seeking Conscientious Objector status, which would allow him to leave the Army without consequences.

As a Muslim soldier uncomfortable serving with the American military in Muslim-dominated countries, Naser Abdo - who was arrested just days after an ultra-right wing shooter killed dozens in Norway- provides an example of a type of jihadist fighter that al-Qaeda has been attempting to radicalize in messages and e-magazines issued during the previous year.  Messages from top leadership, including a June 2011 video featuring al-Qaeda leaders Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Attiya Allah and Adam Gadahn, have repeatedly called for this lone-wolf style attack and celebrated jihadists who carried out individually developed and executed operations around the world. 

Another al-Qaeda ideologue who has issued strong encouragement for Western jihadists to conduct individual operations is Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki, who has a strong following among English-speaking online jihadists.  Some of the individuals frequently cited as inspirational figures are several Western jihadists who engaged in successful operations in the United States, particularly Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 soldiers during a November 2009 shooting attack at Fort Hood.  Additionally, jihadists who have assassinated and attacked public figures whom jihadists perceive to be hostile to Islam are often presented as worthy of emulation, such as Muhammad Bouyeri, who murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and El-Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane.

There is evidence that Naser Abdo was directly influenced by al-Qaeda's attempts to recruit lone-wolf jihadists, as he was found to have an explosives manual distributed through “Inspire,” an English-language e-magazine distributed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

While searching his hotel room and a backpack in his possession, investigators found an article titled, “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom” which was distributed in the first issue of “Inspire” magazine.  Samir Khan, an American jihadist prominent among English-language jihadists who fled Charlotte, North Carolina for Yemen in October 2009, is among the magazine's contributors, and was reported to be among its editors.  The magazine frequently features information aimed at training jihadists in their home countries and contains incitements from jihadist leaders to carry out domestic attacks. 

{Cover of the first issue of “Inspire” magazine}

The first issue, which included the explosives manual found with Abdo, also featured enjoinments from the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Basir al-Wuhayshi listing ways in which a jihadist in the West could hurt the enemy and advising Western Muslims “to acquire weapons and learn methods of war [because] [t]hey are living in a place where they can cause great harm to the enemy.”

{Images from the “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom” manual}

Moreover, Abdo was inspired by the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, an American Army officer, as Abdo attempted to purchase weapons at the same gun shop used by Hasan to purchase weapons before his attack in November 2009 and is reported to have yelled Nidal Hasan's name during his first court appearance.

{Nidal Malik Hasan}

Al-Qaeda's Attempts to Recruit Muslim Soldiers in the West

Abdo's reference to Nidal Hasan is particularly striking, as Hasan's November 5, 2009 attack at Fort Hood is often referenced as an aspirational goal for individual jihadists in the West.  Encouragement for Muslims, and particularly members of the military, to carry out similar individual attacks has been a frequent discussion point for al-Qaeda leaders during the previous year and a half. Additionally, celebrations of individual attacks have become a frequent component of messages from al-Qaeda leadership during the previous two years, often containing passages justifying the actions of individuals like Hasan.  An overview of these inducements for individual attacks follows.

On May 22, 2010, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video interview with Anwar al-Awlaki to jihadist forums during which the Yemeni-American cleric affirmed his connections to, and support for, Hasan.  In the interview, which has been excerpted in subsequent videos from al-Qaeda's media wing, as-Sahab, Awlaki justified Hasan's attack and prayed for the attacks be “an opportunity for Muslims to follow his lead.” Awlaki also presented such attacks as a way for other Muslims serving in the military to cleanse themselves of the sin of collaborating with Americans, stating, “I call upon each and everyone who claims to belong to Islam and who is serving in the American Army to follow the path of Nidal Hasan. The good removes the evil.”  Awlaki's message calling for additional attacks following Hasan's model follows:

“Yes, Nidal Hasan is one of my students and I am very honored for that. I am honored that people like Nidal Hasan are my students. What he did is a heroic act, a formidable operation. I pray unto Allah that He reinforces him, that He guards him and releases him. I support what he did and I call upon each and everyone who claims to belong to Islam and who is serving in the American Army to follow the path of Nidal Hasan. The good removes the evil. I also call Muslim to follow his lead, to either seek jihad through their words or seek it through their actions. Nidal Hasan’s example is a wonderful example; we ask Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, to make it an opportunity for Muslims to follow his lead.

“Nidal Hasan is of Palestinian origin. He was defending his Ummah. Even in the animal world this is unacceptable. Then what would you say if one tries to conceal such talk with a quasi-legal disguise. It is said that the Muslim has no right to protect his Ummah, that he has no right to defend his issues and that he has no right to kill the American soldiers who are about to deploy to kill Muslims. This talk is completely unacceptable. What brother Nidal Hasan did was a heroic act, a wonderful act, and as I said, we pray for him and we ask that Allah reinforces him.”

{Anwar Awlaki being interviewed by AQAP}

Al-Qaeda repeatedly issued calls for followers to engage in individual jihad and glorified Muslims who carried out such attacks.  Among these messages is a two-part June 2011 video titled, “You Are Only Responsible for Yourself” featuring al-Qaeda officials- including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Attiya Allah, and Adam Gadahn - inciting for individual jihad.  The videos were instantly influential and generated a surge of commentary on jihadist forums.  In response to the video,  posters wrote messages calling upon Muslims to carry out attacks, proposed targets and training regimes, and revisited previous discussions questioning whether it is Islamically permissible for Western jihadists to create cells and engage in operations without approval from a jihadist leader.

Gadahn opened his English-language portion of the video by noting that in the United States, one could buy firearms at gun shows without a background check and presented such gun shows as an easy source for weapons to carry out attacks.

He stated:

“Muslims in the West have to remember that they are perfectly placed to play an important and decisive part in the jihad against the Zionists and Crusaders and to do major damage to the enemies of Islam waging war on their religion, sacred places and things and brethren. This is a golden opportunity and a blessing from Allah Subhanu wa Ta’ala, and the way to show one’s appreciation and thanks for this blessing is to rush to discharge one’s duty to his Ummah and fight on its behalf with everything at his disposal

“And in the West you’ve got a lot at your disposal. Let’s take America as an example. America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check and most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

{Adam Gadahn in “You Are Only Responsible for Yourself”}

The jihadist actions of soldiers were particularly noted in ”You Are Only Responsible for Yourself,” including in a segment featuring al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Mentioning two Egyptian soldiers - Suleiman Khater and Ayman Hassan -  who killed Israeli soldiers and civilians, Zawahiri described the two as providing an example for every Egyptian border soldier to reject the demands of their government when they opposed the wishes of jihadists.  Zawahiri's statement encouraging Muslim soldiers to attack the perceived enemies of Islam, rather than follow the orders of a secular government, strongly evokes al-Awlaki's incitement for American Muslim soldiers to counteract their “sin” in working for the American military by carrying out attacks.

{Abu Yahya al-Libi “You Are Only Responsible for Yourself”}

Abu Yahya al-Libi, the al-Qaeda military leader and member of the group's Sharia committee was also featured in the same video justifying lone wolf attacks by explaining that jihad by one person or a small group to harm the enemy has been a form of jihad since the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Thus, he argued, performing an act of individual jihad is following the example of the Prophet and his Companions.

In addition to video messages calling for Muslims in the West to follow Hasan's footsteps, in a four-part question and answer session, Abdul Majeed Abdul Ma’ajid – a member of the Shura Council of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan- endorsed carrying out individual operations in the fourth installment of a question and answer session he held with jihadists.  Among the jihadist he identified as important to emulate in the installment released to jihadist forums on June 23, 2010, he cited Nidal Hasan, describing his example as one that other Muslims should emulate, writing:

“On that basis, every Muslim around the world is obligated to do jihad in the Cause of Allah.  Mujahid Nidal Hasan, as I said, is an example for the others in terms of what he did.”

Hasan's attack at Fort Hood was also praised in an article in the twelfth issue of “Echo of the Epics,”  the Arabic-language e-magazine of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that was released on jihadist forums on February 14, 2010. The issue contained an article titled, “Nidal’s Project in the Struggle,”  authored by Talib al-Hayqa’ah, who argued that suspected shooter Hasan is an example for Muslims in the United States and the West to follow and who should be lauded by Muslim scholars.  Al-Hayqa'ah noted, “Muslims in the West have two options: either that they leave it or do jihad in it, or continue to live in a country where they are required, whenever a jihadi action takes place, to renew the protocol of loyalty and obedience for infidelity and tyranny.”

Jihadist Forum Members Encourage Lone-Wolf Attacks

In chatter on jihadist forums, prominent members have also reiterated the calls for jihad, particularly following the June 2011 as-Sahab video calling for individual attacks. Among these discussions are Arabic-language messages instructing readers to carry out attacks in their homelands and then depart for jihadist battlefields, as well as posts providing advice for targeting Western countries.  Similarly, on English-language jihadist forums, members regarded the July 22, 2011, attacks in Norway carried out by Anders Breivik as a template for future jihadist attacks, with posters even describing their shame that the attacks- identified as the deadliest attack on Norwegian soil since World War II - were not carried out by a jihadist.

{Twelfth issue of “Echo of the Epics” magazine}

In addition to pronouncements supporting Hasan's actions by al-Qaeda leaders and ideologues, members of jihadist forums have also encouraged jihadists to engage in similar actions, including one member of the Arabic-language Shumukh al-Islam jihadist forum who wrote on June 23, 2011, urging readers to attack Western countries. Writing on the Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum, a forum member using the name “Censored31” opined that this type of attack is exactly the sort that Western jihadists should aspire to carry out, writing on July 26:

“salaam alaikoum wa rahmatullah wa barakatu ohkti, we shouldn't be rejoice because we should be ashamed of ourselves. This crusader showed us how to get tamkin [empowerment] while making the ennemies weaker”

In a second thread about the attack, begun on July 25 and titled, “Afghan Boy Flees War gets shot in Norway,” “Censored31” again posted that Muslims living in the West should view Breivik's attack as an action to aspire to, posting:


“look how koeffar [nonbelievers] are defending each other! He is called and I quote 'A Norwegian with anti-immigration views' ... not a terrorist!

“However, this crusader puts Western Muslims (me included) in a shame. One man was able to destroy the heart of koeffar [non-believers] and to attack politcial [sic] summer camp in broad daylight.”

Assuming the attacks in Norway were the work of the mujahideen, a jihadist praised the executors and urged similar attacks in other European countries including England, Finland and France in a message posted to jihadist forums on July 22, 2011.  The jihadist, a prominent member of the forum who uses the name “Abu Suleiman al-Nasser” and occasionally issues his own threats against the West, touted the Oslo attacks as a “blow that exposed the fragility of the security systems in Europe,” and warned European leaders to change their policies vis-à-vis Muslims domestically and internationally.

Since his arrest, Abdo has also become a subject of jihadist approval.  Posting again on the Shumukh al-Islam forum on July 28, 2011, “Abu Suleiman al-Nasser” praised Naser Abdo, calling him a "model of heroism and sacrifice” for other Muslims.  Al-Nasser declared that, despite his arrest, Abdo, like Nidal Hasan before him, will remain a "beacon for those who come after him to follow in his footsteps and walk on the same path." The message, states:

“So, we thank Allah, who made the good in the Islamic Ummah a permanent fixture.. and we continue to see models of heroism and sacrifice from Muslims who refused to bow down to the tyrant of the age, America. One of these models is brother Nasser Abdo, the Muslim soldier in the American Army who had suffered at the hands of the infidels for his refusal to go to Afghanistan to participate in the killing of the Muslims. His motto was "Prison is better than what they are asking me to do," for he preferred to be imprisoned rather than fight his Muslim brothers. He gave his allegiance to Islam and asked from the Americans to pardon him from service, but the Americans did not approve of this and tried to force him to go to Afghanistan; they thought that the defiant mountain Nasser Abdo would submit to them, but far from it, for brother Nasser was preparing for something else... He ran away from his military base and began to prepare himself to mount a jihadi operation against the Fort Hood military base, by detonating two bombs in the base followed by an attack with his weapon. It was so as to teach America a tough lesson as the hero Nidal Malik did before him, but Allah willed that Nasser would be arrested and fall into the hands of the infidel forces. But what can they do, for his faith in Allah is entrenched in his heart and he will remain, with permission from Allah, as a beacon for those who come after him to follow in his footsteps and walk on the same path.

“Let America know that we as Muslims will not give our religion away cheaply.

“O Allah, preserve our brother Nasser Abdo... O Allah, release him... O Allah, grant him patience... O Allah, make him steadfast in faith, O Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

“Abu Suleiman al-Nasser
From the Supporters of Global Jihad”

For jihadists, Naser Abdo represents the type of mujahid who al-Qaeda has been attempting to recruit and radicalize in lectures and messages during the previous year.  Although it is unclear whether Abdo was a member of the password-protected online jihadist forums, he was the beneficiary of forum members' attempts to distribute English-language jihadist content widely through public websites and open-access blogs in order to recruit and radicalize individuals like Abdo.