NEW YORK: A terrorist who set off small bombs in two states, including a pressure cooker device that blasted shrapnel across a New York City block, is set to be sentenced Tuesday to a mandatory term of life in prison.
Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who was born in Afghanistan but lived in New Jersey, injured 30 people when one of his bombs exploded in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on a September night in 2016. A second bomb planted nearby did not detonate.
That blast happened just hours after a small pipe bomb exploded along a Marine Corps road race in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, frightening participants but injuring no one.
The bombings triggered a two-day manhunt that ended in a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey. Rahimi was shot several times but survived.
Federal prosecutors said in presentence papers that Rahimi has not shown remorse and has tried to radicalize fellow prisoners at the federal jail in New York where he has been imprisoned since his arrest.
“He is proud of what he did, scornful of the American justice system, and as dedicated as ever to his terrorist ideology,” they wrote.
Rahimi, prosecutors said, gave inmates copies of terrorist propaganda and jihadist materials, including speeches and lectures by Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric who inspired attacks on America and was killed in a US airstrike in September 2011.
Rahimi also allowed some inmates to view materials on his laptop or provided electronic copies as he spread “The Book of Jihad,” bomb-making instructions and various issues of a propaganda magazine.
Defense attorney Xavier Donaldson said that before the attacks, Rahimi, a naturalized US citizen, aspired to be a police officer and worked as a security guard after studying criminal justice at a community college.
“It was Mr. Rahimi’s belief that he could help people while employed in a position that would guarantee him some type of pension,” Donaldson wrote.
While imprisoned, Rahimi has completed classes in business, entrepreneurship and drama, Donaldson wrote.
Rahimi is scheduled to be sentenced by a federal judge in Manhattan.
The messaging of all 5 groups we studied is worrying because it conveys a deep divide between Muslims & non-Muslims in the UK, particularly with the government, which most of these groups actively seek to delegitimise https://t.co/YhVYHucWt5
The report identifies six “key themes” shared by all four groups: Victimization, opposition between “good” and “bad” Muslims, opposition between Islam and the West, a delegitimization of the government, making Islam central to national politics and justification of violence.
“There is a range of views on these six themes, with differing degrees of severity from mainstream to extreme,” the report says. Of the four, Hizb ut-Tahrir comes close to sharing Al-Muhajiroun’s stance on violence.
Banned since 2000, Al-Muhajiroun notoriously dubbed those behind the Sept. 11 attacks “the Magnificent 19” and several of the group’s adherents have perpetrated other atrocities.
The report warns that such a “corrosive narrative” promoting divisiveness between Muslims and non-Muslims can only embolden the far right and calls on the UK government to establish “a working definition of extremism” by identifying the key ideas that would “flag up” potential danger.
“Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion in Britain today,” said the former prime minister, who went on to serve as a special Middle East envoy.
“Countering and recognizing this is an essential part of fighting extremism because - let us be clear - there is nothing incompatible between being British and being Muslim. But too many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, actively push messages that suggest otherwise.”
The result, he said, was a “skewed discourse” in which fringe views dominate because moderate voices are afraid to speak out. Blair also accused UK politicians of giving up on the discussion.
“Many Muslims in the UK hear more from divisive groups about how there is a security state set up to oppress them than they hear from our national leaders about how communities and policymakers can work together to build a thriving, inclusive Britain,” he said.
“Often when people think of this challenge, they focus entirely on violent, jihadi groups. Yet, as this report shows, many of the central ideas that British Muslims are hearing today from some activist groups are worryingly similar to the ideology of violent extremist groups.”
The Home Office (interior ministry) of the UK government describes Hizb ut-Tahrir as a “radical, but to date non-violent Islamist group” that “holds anti-semitic, anti-western and homophobic views.” Almost all the articles on the Hizb ut-Tahrir website portray Muslims as oppressed and bullied. Some articles are clearly anti-Saudi in tone and content.
CAGE was founded as an advocacy service to raise awareness of the plight of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay during and after the War on Terror. Its outreach director, Moazzam Beg was himself held in Guantanamo Bay for two years before being released without charge. However critics have labelled CAGE “apologists for terrorism,” a “terrorism advocacy group,” propagators of a “myth of Muslim persecution” and “a front for Taliban enthusiasts and Al-Qaeda devotees that fraudulently presents itself as a human rights group.”
The British-born Daesh extremist Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John, who was filmed beheading hostages had been in contact with CAGE while in the UK, complaining that he was being harassed by British intelligence agencies.
Responding to the Blair Institute report, CAGE called it “an academically flawed attempt to remould Islamic belief and silence Muslim voices that challenge repressive state policies,” and dismissed the former prime minister as “commonly known for being funded by despots.”
CAGE research director Asim Qureshi said: “It’s unsurprising, considering Tony Blair’s penchant for misinformation that his organization would use seriously flawed methodology in order to draw false conclusions.”
Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has held consultative status with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs since 2007. However it has also been described as “a radical Islamist organisation that uses the language of human rights to promote an extremist agenda including the adoption of sharia law” and “neo-Khomeinist.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK encourages tactical voting in elections to dislodge members of parliament who support policies which it considers not be in Muslims’ interest. In 2005, the MPACUK targeted Lorna Fitzsimmons, a Labour MP for Rochdale, a town in north-west England with a large Muslim population, printing leaflets that claimed she had done nothing to help the Palestinian cause because she was Jewish. She is not and the group later apologized.
Former home secretary Jack Straw, whose parliamentary seat in Blackburn also has a large Muslim population, called the group “egregious” after it campaigned for Muslims to oust him.
Azmina Siddique, policy adviser at the Tony Blair Institute, said: “The groups studied in this report don’t represent what most British Muslims think…This isn’t about violent extremism but about sowing division. This ‘us versus them’ rhetoric is becomingly increasingly visible across our society, including from the far right. Policymakers and civil society must start to challenge rhetoric that falls into this grey space between activism and extremism so that we can tackle the increasingly toxic climate that is feeding into extremism.”
Arab News asked the three other UK groups to comment on the report but none of them responded.