The State Department added Anas El Abboubi, an Italian-born rapper who doubles as a jidhadist fighting for the Islamic State in Syria, to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists earlier today. Abboubi was briefly in Italian custody in June 2013, but fled to Syria after he was released.
According to State, “Abboubi began to radicalize in 2012 after being relatively well known on the Italian hip hop scene as rapper McKhalif,” and by August of that year, “he established the Italian branch of an extremist organization.” While State did not name the organization, it is Sharia4Italy.
Italian police and counterterrorism forces in Brescia, Italy, detained Abboubi in June 2013 “for plotting a terrorist attack in Northern Italy and recruiting individuals for militant activity in Syria.”
According to quiBrescia, police seized Abboubi’s computer and “found texts in Arabic with video that explained how to build weapons and ordnance.” However, Abboubi was “released from prison because there was no hard evidence that he was organizing subversive or potentially dangerous activities.”
Abboubi disappeared shortly afterward and resurfaced in Syria, under the nom de guerre of Anas al Itali. He continued to post on the Sharia4Italy website and Facebook page up until 2015.
State noted that Abboubi “is one of approximately 50 foreign terrorist fighters of Italian origins fighting in Syria.”
Italy is a known hub for jihadists in Europe, and the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan has served as a headquarters for al Qaeda’s operations in the country. [See LWJ report, From al Qaeda in Italy to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.]
Abboubi is one of several European rappers who have joined jihadist groups. The two most infamous are Denis Cuspert, a.k.a Deso Dogg, and Abdel Majed Abdel Bari, a.k.a. Lyricist Jinn.
Cuspert left Germany for Syria in 2013, where he eventually joined the Islamic State. While Cuspert abandoned his music to wage jihad, he became a prominent fixture in Islamic State propaganda. In one video, Cuspert is seen holding the severed head of a civilian. In another, Cuspert called on Germans to travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State. The US added Cuspert to its list of global terrorists in February 2015.
Bari, a British citizen, traveled to Syria in 2013 and linked up with the Islamic State in 2014. He has been featured in numerous videos threatening Britain and the West, and was also seen holding a severed head. He was reported to have had a falling out with the Islamic State in June 2015 and fled to Turkey.
Bari comes from a jihadist pedigree. His father, Adel Abdel Bari, pled guilty for his role in the 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The senior Bari admitted to transmitting the claim of responsibility for the attacks and other communications from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Additionally, Omar Hammami, an American jihadist who joined Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, fancied himself a rapper. Hammami released several nasheeds, or Islamic chants. In one clumsy, rap-styled song, Hammami glorified death while waging jihad and asks to die in US drone strikes like other notorious Qaeda commanders. Shabaab killed Hammami after he refused to remain quiet about a dispute with the group.