Jihadists of Georgia, Part 1
The Path to Terror
The Jihadists of Georgia, Part 1
They were a couple of young Americans with terror on their minds, two middle-class kids barely out of high school who lived seemingly normal lives in and around Atlanta while secretly taking up the mantle of violent jihad, who in the span of a year went from being extremist wannabes to trusted brothers of terrorist operatives across the globe.
Now, following their convictions in federal court earlier this year and sentencings this week, they are each headed to prison for quite some time.
Their names are Ehsanul Islam Sadequee and Syed Haris Ahmed, and their story is indicative of both the evolving homegrown extremist threat and the FBI's post 9/11 intelligence-driven investigations.
When Sadequee and Ahmed met at a midtown Atlanta mosque, neither was yet 21. Ahmed, who was born in Pakistan and moved to this country at about age 12, was a mechanical engineering student at Georgia Tech. Sadequee, a Bangladeshi-American born in Virginia, was working at an Atlanta non-profit while living at home with his mother and siblings in the suburb of Roswell.
The two soon became friends, finding that they shared a similar interest: violent jihad. They started spending hours online—chatting with each other, watching terrorist recruitment videos, and meeting like-minded extremists.
But they clearly wanted to do more than just stand on the sidelines. Fueled by their growing connections in cyberspace, Sadequee and Ahmed made a series of journeys that drew them further and further into a web of terror.
- In late 2004, they traveled to rural northwest Georgia, shooting paintball guns and practicing attack techniques as part of basic paramilitary training.
- The following March, they hopped on a Greyhound bus to Canada, where they spent a week talking terror with three jihadists they met on the Internet. One was an alleged member of the “Toronto 18,” a terror cell that later plotted to bomb the Canadian Parliament and other targets before being exposed in 2006.
- In April 2005, Ahmed and Sadequee drove a pickup truck to the nation's capital and cased a series of landmarks—including the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon—making more than 60 short video clips to help establish their extremist credentials. Sadequee sent several clips to Younis Tsouli—aka “Irhabi007” (“Terrorist 007” in Arabic), an al Qaeda webmaster, recruiter, and propagandist—and to Aabid Hussein Khan, a facilitator for two Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Both Tsouli and Khan have since been convicted of terror offenses in the U.K.
- That summer, Ahmed and Sadequee took separate trips overseas. Ahmed went to Pakistan, meeting with Khan and asking to attend a training camp and engage in jihad (he was talked out of it by his family). Sadequee was off to Bangladesh, where he joined with Tsouli and a Swedish extremist named Mirsad Bektasevic to form a violent jihadist organization known as “Al Qaeda in Northern Europe.” In October, just a few days after being in contact with Sadequee, Bektasevic was arrested in Sarajevo armed to the teeth; he was later convicted of terrorism.
What Sadequee and Ahmed didn't know was that for some time, they were being tracked by the FBI and its partners. In part two of our story later this week, we'll talk about how our investigation unfolded and interview an Atlanta FBI agent and two Bureau execs.