Reports are emerging that Tamerlan and Dzkhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers allegedly responsible for the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, were radicalized, at least in part, by radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Dzokhar, the surviving Tsarnaev brother, reportedly told law enforcement officials that he and his brother were inspired by Awlaki sermons available online. Awlaki, an American-born Muslim cleric who encouraged attacks against America and the West, delivered his ideology of extreme intolerance and violence to English-speaking online audiences for several years.
Prior to his death in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011, Awlaki influenced a generation of extremists in the U.S and abroad. One indication of Awlaki's widespread influence is the number of extremists that have been found in possession of his materials. In addition to the Boston Bombings, Awlaki’s influence can be seen in at least nine other plots:
- Quazi Nafis, who pleaded guilty to attempting to bomb the New York Federal Reserve Building in October 2012, reportedly watched Awlaki videos and admired him, according to friends and federal officials.
- Adel Daoud, who was arrested in September 2012 and charged with plotting to bomb a Chicago-area bar, shared Awlaki lectures with his friends.
- Jose Pimentel, who was arrested and charged with state-level terrorism offense in New York for planning to attack military personnel and other targets in November 2011, posted at least fifteen Awlaki videos to his YouTube channel. On his website, Pimentel called Awlaki “The Destroyer Of The US” and posted transcripts of his messages. Pimentel reportedly accelerated his bomb-building efforts in response to Awlaki’s death in a US drone strike in September 2011.
- Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, who was sentenced for his plot to attack a military facility in Seattle in June 2011, subscribed to a YouTube channel featuring Awlaki videos. In one of the videos Abdul-Latif made himself, he laments that President Obama “put a hit out on Anwar al-Awlaki, our brother sheikh.”
- Antonio Martinez, who was sentenced for attempting to detonate what he believed to be a car bomb at a Maryland Army recruiting center in December 2010, conveyed to an undercover informant his admiration for Awlaki. On his Facebook profile, Martinez similarly broadcast his appreciation of Awlaki, writing, "I love Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki for the sake of ALLAH. A real inspiration for the Ummah, I dont care if he is on the terrorist list! May ALLAH give him Kire amen [sic]."
- Farooque Ahmed, who was sentenced for his role in a plot to attack DC-area public transportation in 2010, was found to be in possession of CDs containing Awlaki lectures and speeches.
- Faisal Shahzad, who was sentenced to life in prison for his failed attempt to bomb Times Square in 2010, told investigators he was influenced by Awlaki.
- Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, sent 16 emails to Awlaki and received two responses. In the aftermath of the attack, Awlaki claimed he “blessed the act because it was against a military target,” gave Hasan “permission to carry out his attacks at Fort Hood,” and instructed him to “kill other American soldiers,” although his email responses were relatively innocuous.
- Five men who conspired to attack the Fort Dix army base in New Jersey in 2007 were reportedly in possession of an Awlaki sermon and were also reportedly recorded discussing the lecture enthusiastically.
Awlaki was also a contributor to Inspire magazine which influenced numerous international and domestic extremists motivated by radical interpretations of Islam. Federal law enforcement officials reportedly confirmed that the Tsarnaev brothers got bomb-making instructions from Inspire magazine.
Additionally, Awlaki is believed to have personally instructed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate his bomb aboard a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 over American airspace in order to maximize casualties.
Awlaki’s influence is not limited to plots. His propaganda also influenced a number of individuals accused of providing or attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Recent examples include Abdella Tounisi, four individuals from California, Randy “Rasheed” Wilson and Mohammad Abukhdair. Notably, several American extremists communicated with Awlaki directly, including Nidal Hassan, Zachary Chesser and Barry Bujol, Jr.