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CNN: Special Investigations Unit
Aired December 13, 2009 - 21:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN HOST: The FBI had been watching Naji Buhl Zazy for months. Born in Afghanistan, bred in Queens, New York, and allegedly plotting to attack subway stations. In his possession, according to sources, video of this place, Grand Central Terminal. Zazy is one of a string of homegrown terror arrests this year.
I'm Drew Griffin with CNN's "Special Investigative Unit."
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN HOST: And I'm Nic Robertson, senior international correspondent.
As America's homeland security chief said just days ago, home-based terror is here. If 2001 was Osama bin Laden's year, 2009 belongs to the terrorist next door.
This is a "CNN SIU" special report, "Homegrown Terror."
GRIFFIN: Right here in the United States there are groups that applaud Osama bin Laden. They want to convert Americans to wage war on their own country. One of those groups is based in New York, Revolution Muslim. Their teaching in stark contrast to most Muslim preachers, but they are not hard to find.
These are the brothers of revolution Muslim.
UNIDENTIFIED MUSLIM: We tell you Muslims to rise up.
GRIFFIN: They are recruiting just outside New York's 96th Street mosque. Inside thousands of faithful Muslims from every walk of life pray here, practice their faith and listen to the message of peace.
The imam says he detests the messages of hate being yelled right outside his door but there is not much he can do.
IMAM SHAMSI ALI, 96TH STREET MOSQUE: They are bringing destructive behavior into our community. The mainstream Muslims are disgusted with their behavior.
GRIFFITH: Almost every Friday, after prayers, the unwelcomed guests arrive to spread their anger.
YOUSEF AL KHATTAB, MUSLIM: The Koran commands that you disavow, and make hatred and enmity between democracy, between nationalism, between secularism. And that you see Obama as the enemy he really is, that you see the United States it really is.
GRIFFIN: Yousef al Khattab, a Jew who lived in Israel and abruptly converted to Islam, and Younes Abdullah Mohammed, also a convert, both born and raised in the United States, a country whose way of life, they say, they hate.
Only hours after the attack at Ft. Hood, their Web site was praising Nidal Hasan for his pre-emptive strike. They called him an officer and a gentleman and said, "We do not denounce this officer's actions."
In fact, in an interview a week before the shootings, the brothers of Revolution Muslim were telling CNN it was every Muslim's duty to terrorize. And if you are not a Muslim, they count you as a disbeliever. Their mission -- to terrorize you.
YOUNES ABDULLAH MOHAMMED, REVOLUTION MUSLIM: We are commanded to terrorize the disbelievers. And this is a religion, like I said.
GRIFFIN: You are commanded to terrorize the disbelievers?
MOHAMMED: The Koran says very clearly in the Arabic language, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This means "Terrorize them." It is a command from Allah.
GRIFFIN: So you are commanded...
MOHAMMED: To terrorize them.
GRIFFIN: ... to terrorize anybody who does not believe...
MOHAMMED: It does not mean -- you define terrorism as going and killing an innocent civilian. That is what your -- I define terrorism as making them fearful so that they think twice before they go rape your mother, or kill your brother, or go onto your land and try to steal your resources.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It is that jihadist version of Islam which allows them to conclude the killing of American soldiers overseas is justified, that the attack of 9/11 was also justified and that an attack on almost any American is justified.
MOHAMMED: Americans will always be a target, and a legitimate target, until America changes its nature in the international arena.
GRIFFIN: In separate and disturbing interviews, both look to one man as the true living model of Islam -- Osama bin Laden.
AL KHATTAB: I love Osama Bin Laden. I (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I love him -- like, I can't begin to tell you because I haven't seen that he's really done anything wrong from the Shahira. I love him more than I love myself.
GRIFFIN: What they want is U.S. forces to be defeated, for a Muslim holy land stretching from China to Rome, and, yes, they yearn for the day Israel will vanish.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So you would like Israel to be bombed, Jews to be...
AL KHATTAB: Well, I think that's -- do you think that is a rational comeback...
GRIFFIN: I'm asking you.
AL KHATTAB: I would like to see Israel wiped off the map. I would like to see a mushroom cloud over it. But before that, I would like to see the people guided, and I would like them to go back to their original countries where they are from.
GRIFFIN: They may seem crazy to you, but you are not their target audience. The FBI has assigned agents to watch them, to monitor their Web site, and perhaps more importantly, watch those who are viewing and listening -- like Bryant Neal Vinus, the young New Yorker who has pled guilty in a plot to blow up the Long Island Railroad. He met with and admired Khattab.
KHATTAB: I just know that he was a good Muslim brother, and that was it.
GRIFFIN: Khattab claims friendship with Tarek Mehanna and Daniel Maldonado, Maldonado arrested and pled guilty in Texas to receiving military training with Somali terrorists.
Mehanna was just indicted in Boston conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. The Revolution Muslim partners say they do not fight themselves and do not incite others to fight. But make no mistake, they want you to become a Muslim. They want Americans to die.
KHATTAB: I would not do it myself. That's what I said. Is Obama a murderer, a tyrant, a scumbag? Absolutely he is.
If they killed him, would I shed a tear? Absolutely I would not. Would I incite his murder? That is not what we -- we don't preach that.
GRIFFIN: The mosques have tried to prevent that kind of hatred from being preached by calling police. But there is little police or the even the FBI can do to stop these radicalizers. They are protected by legal rights given in a country they detest.
(on camera): Less strident than Revolution Muslim but potentially more influential is an American-born preacher named Anwar al-Awlaki.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL MALIK, DAR AL-HURAH MOSQUE: Young, handsome, Californian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Quite a mix of people Anwar Awlaki has met in his travels, including three of the 9/11 hijackers. He has received e-mails from Ft. Hood shooting suspect Nidal Hasan, just to name a few.
More from my colleague Nic Robertson in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some security analysts say his teachings are "Radical Islam for Dummies," but don't be fooled by the glibness. Muslim cleric Anwar Awlaki has been crafty enough to escape capture on three continents and is charismatic enough to draw big crowds and comparisons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANWAR AL-AWLAKI: The Islam of Aman (ph) was an opening. (Unintelligible) was victory.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Anwar al-Awlaki...
AL-AWLAKI: Rain (ph) was mercy.
ROBERTSON: ... the radical, Yemen-based preacher seen here online. His followers in Brisham (ph) say he is like Osama bin Laden.
ABU MUWAZ, HEAD, SALAR YOUTH MOVEMENT: He reminds me of, for example, Osama bin Laden and also Ayman al-Zawahiri in terms of he is soft- spoken, and at the same time, the knowledge that they have, the foundations that they have.
AL-AWLAKI: And he said, "Hand me over your scrolls."
ROBERTSON: This is the same Anwar al-Awlaki who exchanged e-mails with Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused of killing 13 people at Ft. Hood. After the killings, al-Awlaki praised Hasan on his Web site, calling him a hero. The web site is down now.
Six years ago he moved from the U.S. to London. Abu Muwaz was one of thousands who flocked to his lectures.
MUWAZ: He was well revered. People loved him. People loved his classes. People loved the way he explained things.
ROBERTSON: For these radical Muslims in London, Awlaki was God's messenger.
ABU NUSYABH: He doesn't say fight until there is no more corruption. It is Allah that says that. So in reality, he may quote a verse. It is the verse that inspires the people, not Imam al-Awlaki.
ROBERTSON (on camera): And al-Awlaki is still getting his message out, because even though his Web site is down and he is in hiding from Yemeni authorities, DVD box sets of his teachings are still for sale, openly taking a prominent place in bookstores like this in London, keeping his radicalizing message alive.
(voice-over): The newest DVD set released last month sells out in the open for $100. The storekeeper tells me he is doing good business. Even more frightening, the people he sells them to think Awlaki is mainstream. And this video, with the ominous title "The End of Time...A New Beginning," shows Awlaki inspiring his followers in a 45-minute live Internet broadcast to an audience in London. And whether he wants it or not, Awlaki has inspired people to terrorism.
In London, court transcripts reveal that at least some of the group that conspired to blow up passenger jets en route to the U.S. in 2006 were Awlaki devotees, so, too, terrorists in Toronto convicted of planning to blow up targets in Canada, and in the United States, six men arrested in May 2007 and convicted of planning to kill soldiers at Ft. Dix in New Jersey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): Ever since I heard this lecture, brother, I want everyone to hear about it. You know why? Because he gives it to you raw and uncut."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: What you are hearing are three of the Ft. Dix plotters praising Awlaki. Why Awlaki is so influential is a combination of birth and upbringing. He was born in the United States. His father was a minister in the Yemeni government. He is smart and privileged. He preached in Imam Johari Malik's mosque in Virginia.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL MALIK, DAR AL-HURAH MOSQUE: Young, handsome, Californian. Has the benefit of English without an accent, and who also is proficient in the Arabic language. In fact, he is technically an Arab. What better mix?
ROBERTSON: He doesn't agree with Awlaki's extreme views and denounces the killings at Ft. Hood. But it was here at Malik's mosque Awlaki met Maj. Hasan as well as two of the 9/11 bombers.
The 9/11 Commission reports that even before this he was on the FBI's radar. According to the commission, "By the time we sought to interview him in 2003, he had left the United States."
But what is on everyone's mind now is what influence Awlaki may have had on Maj. Hasan in those e-mails they exchanged months before the Ft. Hood shootings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL-AWLAKI: So he told them, "Where are you heading?"
ROBERTSON (voice-over): It is evident that the money is pouring in and the message is getting out. So where is the money going, and what will Awlaki's followers do with the message?
(on camera): Some of those followers, as you heard, inspired to act, plots foiled on both sides of the Atlantic. But this one would have been big.
MUBIN SHAIK, YOUTH DIRECTOR: He knew it would cause chaos, damage, destruction, and he timed it so that, you know, he timed it -- he wanted to do it around 9/11.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): An anniversary attack paying homage to al Qaeda brought down by a Muslim mole. Drew Griffin has that next.
GRIFFIN: They are called the Toronto 18, a group of mostly young Canadians arrested for plotting their own Canadian version of 9/11. The plot -- frightening. The date -- September 11, 2006.
Only now are we learning the full details of this plot, how close they came to pulling it off and how some of those convicted may soon be back on the street.
Investigators say this is the devastation their bomb would have caused. The aim? Kill as many Canadians as possible. The target? Downtown Toronto -- three buildings, three bombs, all right here in the heart of Downtown Toronto and all to go off almost simultaneously using one cell phone.
MUBIN SHAIK, YOUTH DIRECTOR: It would have been that same phone, probably would have been three different numbers, and so the -- I mean, the time it takes to dial three numbers.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Mubin Shaik was the mole on the inside, a paid informant of Canadian police, and this was the so-called ringleader of the conspiracy. His name is Zakaria Amara, seen here on police evidence tape testing a cell phone-triggered detonator.
SHAIK: He knew it would cause chaos, damage, destruction, and he timed it so that -- he timed it -- he wanted to do it around 9/11. He wanted it to have the maximum effect on the Canadian psyche and the public psyche, and that is where the strength of terrorism lies.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Shaik, a Muslim youth director in Toronto, infiltrated the group, most of them teenagers. He calls them high school friends who played soccer together, had been involved with after-school Muslim youth groups.
He says they had also begun looking at perceived injustice towards Muslims around the world. Mubin Shaik says Amara and his followers became homegrown terrorists bent on killing in hopes that they would become famous among their heroes, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
SHAIK: And some have termed them "jihobbyists" because it becomes a -- it's a hobby. They are online, they are checking all this stuff out, and then it is a cause for celebration when one of them actually goes and does something.
GRIFFIN: For Toronto's police chief Bill Blair, the Toronto 18 is the new and growing threat of terror.
BILL BLAIR, CHIEF OF POLICE, TORONTO: It is one thing to keep a threat outside your borders. It is another to realize that that threat can germinate and grow inside your borders and inside your own communities.
GRIFFIN: What prevented catastrophe three years ago was inside information allowing Shaik to penetrate the group, actually going on these training missions. On this undercover tape the group practices guerilla war tactics.
Also caught on tape -- purchases of what the would-be terrorists thought were large quantities of ammonium nitrate to make the three one-ton bombs they would plant in rental vans.
This police demonstration was to show a jury just how powerful those bombs would have been.
GRIFFIN (on camera): And you don't say that lightly -- they could have killed thousands.
BLAIR: The detonators that have been retained worked. Had they been able to obtain the chemicals, all of the chemicals that they were trying to obtain, had they been able to detonate that in the city of Toronto, thousands of citizens would have been killed.
GRIFFIN: And this is your city.
SHAIK: It is. It is. Born and raised. Homegrown.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It's fair to say it could have happened, had Mubin Shaik not intervened.
SHAIK: That was the eyes and ears of the police.
GRIFFIN: But his spying on the Toronto 18 has made him an outcast in the city and neighborhood where he grew up. He's now considered a rat by some in Toronto's Muslim community. He has no regrets, because, had the plan worked, he knows Muslims would no longer be welcome here.
SHAIK: I thought to myself, really, "I'm born and raised here, I love this place." I thought it would have been over. I might as well just burn my passport and find some hole in the ground to live in.
GRIFFIN (on camera): What may surprise you even more than the plot to kill thousands of Canadians is the punishment handed down for trying to pull it off. Of the two conspirators seen loading and unloading what they thought was ammonium nitrate, one got a 14-year prison sentence but can apply for parole in just two-and-a-half years.
The other will be sentenced in January. Zakaria Amara, the mastermind who was fine-tuning those cell phone-activated detonators, has pled guilty and faces a sentence next month of up to life in prison. But in Canada, life means 25 years with the possibility for parole after serving just 15.
One man was convicted of taking part in a terrorist group and is already free. Charges against seven others were either dropped or stayed. Toronto's police chief doesn't believe the punishments fit the crime. BLAIR: Had they been successful, they could have killed thousands of citizens in the city. They were not successful, thank God, and the outcome of the criminal justice process should reflect what might have happened.
GRIFFIN: One thing we can say, the blinders have come off.
ZACK ZACCARDELLI, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC PLANNING, INTERPOL, FORMER HEAD OF THE ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE: We're Canadians, we're nice people in general, and why would anybody want to hurt us? That no longer holds true, even for Canada.
GRIFFIN: When we come back, what the Toronto 18 can teach all of us about battling homegrown hatred.
GRIFFIN: the Toronto 18, suburban Canadian teenagers, plotting their own tribute to 9/11, an outlandish idea once, before this wave of homegrown terrorism.
I talked about local and global counter-terror techniques with Zack Zaccardelli. He was the former head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and now director of strategic planning for Interpol.
GRIFFIN: The Toronto 18 case has struck me in so many different ways, but primarily because of how close this group came and what they were planning to do -- in Canada, in Toronto. When you found out about it, what was your reaction?
ZACCARDELLI: I think it shocked all Canadians (unintelligible). We now know that it can actually happen to us, because Canadians in some cases in the past have been a little bit naive thinking that we're Canadians, we're nice people in general, and why would anybody want to hurt us?
GRIFFIN: These were Canadians. They were pretty much suburban kids, right?
ZACCARDELLI: Yes. Absolutely, and they were Canadians, and I think that's what shocked a lot of countries in the Western world.
This new phenomena post 9/11, the idea that you actually -- I mean, you can deal with a terrorist who comes from somewhere else, that comes with an ideology or belief that is so foreign to us and wants to attack our way of life.
But to then think that somebody in Canada or in the United States, or what we call the homegrown terrorist, can actually grow up amongst us, and is one of us, is a citizen of our country, and actually buy into this perverted ideology and attack us is something that we just -- we're still trying to grapple with it.
GRIFFIN: Is that the next wave, the next danger -- not so much the "I come with a passport" terrorist, but the homegrown, incubating in- house kind of hatred that leads to a tragic event? ZACCRDELLI: I think you have to look after all possibilities now. I think at one point -- before, again, before 9/11, we thought it would come from the outside, from one or two countries from a certain group of people.
Now, post 9/11, and post this homegrown terrorism, we have to lay out all possibilities. The key to responding to that, of course, is to better prepare yourself in partnership, in league with your colleagues, in your country and indeed with your neighbors in your continent and indeed around the world.
GRIFFIN: Who is reaching them? Who was planting this hatred in their heads, and how do you stop that? How do you stop the imam who maybe on a Friday prayer preaches this, when your ears are not listening? Or the websites that come across the Internet?
ZACCARDELLI: That's the huge challenge, and, of course, again, the more that we can talk about our values as a society, the more we can talk to the communities to make sure that where you have these aberrations, where you have these few people that actually do buy into these ideologies, we know about them and we can reach out to them.
The vast majority of the people in these communities are hardworking, good people. But for whatever reason, some of them get marginalized in society, they become susceptible to this type of perverted ideology, and they can buy into it.
The key is to identify who these people are, where the ideologies are being espoused, in what settings, whether it's a mosque or another area, and try to deal with that. We have to do that.
That is a new phenomenon for us. We are not used to that in Western societies, having to do that. And I think it's a struggle for us in Canada, in the United States. Certainly it is a struggle in Europe.
GRIFFIN: The world is changing, and while radicals plotting terror across the globe is nothing new, what is new is, those radicals just might be your neighbor.
ROBERTSON: Eight-plus years since 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, the landscape has changed.
Then, the very idea of an American Taliban shocked this country. Not any more.
GRIFFIN: Thanks for watching.