The US Treasury Department has sanctioned Abdullah Ibrahim al-Faisal (a.k.a. Trevor William Forrest), a well-known jihadist ideologue and Islamic State recruiter based in Jamaica. He has been added to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists. Faisal is “currently facing extradition proceedings,” as he has been indicted on terrorism-related charges in New York.
The Jamaican cleric (pictured above) has promulgated his extremist views online for years, influencing numerous terrorists in the process, according to Treasury.
Interestingly, the US government counts Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Somali refugee who drove his car into a crowd of people at Ohio State University in Nov. 2016, as one of Faisal’s fans. The Islamic State quickly claimed Artan’s attack via its Amaq News Agency, saying he was a “soldier” of the so-called caliphate who “carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the international coalition countries.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Islamic State claims its ‘soldier’ carried out Ohio State attack.]
Artan’s assault was similar to the types of attacks carried out by Islamic State supporters and members elsewhere. After he drove his car into pedestrians, Artan exited the vehicle and began wildly stabbing at anyone close-at-hand. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s propagandists have consistently called on their followers to execute such operations and some of them have, in London and other cities. (The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a vehicle attack in New York City in October.)
However, it wasn’t clear in Nov. 2016 if there were any actual ties between Artan and the self-declared caliphate’s international network. Treasury does not provide any specific details concerning Faisal’s influence on him. So it is still not clear if Artan was in contact with any jihadists online, or merely downloaded inspirational propaganda.
Faisal pushed his jihadist message long before the rise of the Islamic State. But he gravitated to Baghdadi’s cause as it gained steamed.
Treasury says that Faisal “has directly or indirectly influenced numerous terrorists,” in addition to Artan. “Faisal has recruited for and provided support to ISIS and his actions have influenced terrorists who engaged in bomb plots and other horrific attacks on innocent civilians,” John E. Smith, the director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), said in a statement. “This designation will help deter Faisal’s global following and prevent U.S. persons from supporting him in any manner.”
Treasury lists the following terrorists as being among those “influenced” by Faisal: Richard Reid (who attempted a shoe bombing on behalf of al Qaeda in Dec. 2001); “two of the four bombers of the July 7, 2005 bombings in London,” which was orchestrated by al Qaeda; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on behalf of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Christmas Day 2009; Mohammed Chowdury, “who planned and attempted to bomb the London Stock Exchange in 2010” (another al Qaeda-linked or inspired plot); Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in 2010 on behalf of the Pakistani Taliban; and at least one of the shooters who attacked “a Mohammed drawing contest in 2015” in Garland, Texas. The last plot was tied to another Islamic State figure, Junaid Hussain, who was an English-speaking digital operative and recruited would-be jihadists throughout the West. Hussain was killed in a drone strike in Syria in Aug. 2015.
All of the terrorists mentioned by Treasury had lived or stayed in the West, which is consistent with Faisal’s intended audience. He deliberately sought to woo Western recruits to the jihadist ideology. At the beginning of his career, some of those inspired by his teachings made their way into al Qaeda’s fold. But as the Islamic State mushroomed in 2013 and 2014, some of his admirers became enthralled with Baghdadi’s caliphate, just like Faisal.
Faisal’s career hasn’t been limited to inspirational lectures. He has also allegedly helped facilitate the travel of Islamic State recruits.
The New York County District Attorney’s office for the State of New York unsealed an indictment against Faisal on Aug. 25, 2017. The government alleges that Faisal supported the Islamic State in various ways, including using “online applications and networks to facilitate the travel of others to join [ISIS] by providing them with contacts outside the United States and advice on how to evade detection by law enforcement.” The indictment cites various emails Faisal allegedly sent to recruits with the subject line “Dawla numbers” and which included various telephone numbers the recipient could “ring… to get into Dawla.” (Dawla is a reference to the Islamic State.)
Faisal told other email recipients that “a brother in the dawla wants to interview u for marriage. Pls whatsapp him.”
Faisal did not conceal his endorsement of the Islamic State. He published various messages online calling on people to swear allegiance to Baghdadi. One statement, cited in the indictment, is entitled “Can the Caliphate Survive[?]” It reads: “[s]o I put it to you the Caliphate is legitimate. Why? Because they did [sic] jihad against God’s enemies and they implemented the Shar’ia and they continue to implement the Shar’ia. It is compulsory on all Muslims to give their bayah [oath of allegiance] to the Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
The Jamaican cleric shared this and other messages with his online supporters. But not all of them were what they seemed. The indictment cites an “Undercover Officer” who was corresponding with Faisal online. At one point the jihadist ideologue wrote: “I can link u to someone there [meaning in the Islamic State] . . . I don’t want U to talk to anyone in dawla from where u are it’s too risky . . . I don’t like talking about D online bcs the kuffaar will read our text.”
Indeed, authorities were reading his messages, including Faisal’s instructions concerning how to travel to the lands of the caliphate. Faisal advised the “Undercover Officer” that he should “holiday in Turkey,” a common destination for jihadists pretending to be on vacation.
These messages and other evidence led to Faisal’s indictment, as well as Treasury’s decision to designate him as a terrorist.
“Faisal facilitated and helped connect ISIS recruits with those who could arrange travel and entry into ISIS-controlled territory in order to join ISIS,” Treasury said in its announcement. “Moreover, he helped hide those seeking to join ISIS or travel to ISIS-controlled territory” and was so “trusted” by the group that he “vouched for those seeking to join” it.
One of his facilitation schemes involved arranging marriages “for the purpose of assisting couples to travel to ISIS-controlled territory.” One such individual, “who was later convicted for supporting ISIS…believed that a marriage certificate from Faisal would help provide ‘verification’ in ISIS-territory if the individual’s spouse was killed.”
The contrived marriages were just one way Faisal sought to send recruits to Baghdadi’s commanders. But his recruiting days have now been interrupted by counterterrorism and law enforcement officials.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.