The most popular religious leader for Western recruits in the Islamic State lives in Dearborn, Michigan.
Ahmad Jebril, in his early 40s, was born in the Detroit suburb, home to a large Arab-American community. In the mid-2000s, Jebril and his father were convicted on charges of fraud in connection with rental properties, and it wasn’t the only offense uncovered by authorities, reports The Wall Street Journal:
At the time, prosecutors also said the younger Mr. Jebril was running a radical website that “contained a library of fanatically anti-American sermons by militant Islamic clerics, in English and in Arabic.”
Since Jebril’s release in 2012, federal authorities have closely monitored the cleric’s Internet activity, travel and finances. But official attempts at quieting Jebril’s cheerleading of jihadis could be hindered once he completes probation at the end of March.
The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence released a report last year, saying Jebril is the most popular spiritual leader for Western fighters with the Islamic State, based on an analysis of social media accounts.
The report described Jebril as a preacher who, knowing the First Amendment restrictions on police action, “does not explicitly call to violent jihad, but supports individual foreign fighters and justifies the Syrian conflict in highly emotive terms. He is eloquent, charismatic, and – most importantly – fluent in English.”
Despite Jebril’s followings on social media, it’s difficult to say how much sway his messages hold over foreign fighters in the Islamic State. Although he isn’t banned from sharing sermons online, “he hasn’t posted to his Twitter or Facebook accounts since the new government monitoring imposed last summer,” according to the WSJ.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told The Daily Caller News Foundation he only learned about Jebril through news reports. Walid says Jebril never held any leadership positions in the Islamic community in the Detroit metropolitan area.
“If the government has evidence to indict him for supporting terrorism, then they should indict him,” said Walid. “If they don’t have evidence, then he should be treated like anyone else who has freedom of speech.” Even the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis have freedom of speech, the director added. “We have very liberal freedom of speech laws in this country.”
It’s quite a snafu when known radicals hide behind the rights a majority of Americans value. The WSJ reports that authorities have been as careful in their investigations as Jerbil has in his social media presence. Authorities told the WSJ they don’t want to inadvertently trample in their pursuit of fellows like Jerbil.
Oddly enough, Jebril spent some of his childhood in Saudi Arabia, where even the slightest criticism of the government has extreme consequences. A blogger was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for insulting the state religion of Islam.
In the neighboring United Arab Emirates, a 30 year-old American contractor was imprisoned for statements he made on Facebook while vacationing in the U.S. (RELATED: Abu Dhabi Jails American For Facebook Post Made In Florida)
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