January 6, 2010

Jamaica's Silver Lining

Finally some good news in America’s endless “War on Terrorism,” courtesy of Mustafa Muhammad, leader of Jamaica's Islamic council.

Too bad it has to come with bad news.

Sheik Abudllah el-Faisal is by no means a new face. Having converted to Islam at 16 and studied in Saudi Arabia for seven years, el-Faisal developed a taste for Takfiri ideology, the accusation of Muslim apostasy. Preaching jihad throughout the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, including a year at a UK mosque, he was finally arrested in 2003 and convicted of conspiring to kill Jews, Americans, and Hindus.

Suspected 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui, 7/7 bomber Germaine Maurice Lindsay, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were all linked to him during the trial.

But an appeal reduced his nine year sentence to seven and el-Faisal was granted parole in 2007, only four years after his original sentencing. Though the UK placed him on its “watchlist,” el-Faisal was allowed to enter Africa and continue expanding his network while attempting to lose himself.

Unsuccessfully that is. Arrested this New Years Eve in Kenya, el-Faisal is due to be deported back to his home country: Jamaica.

The move is said to be inevitable. Kenya says it will soon expel him from the country and Jamaica is the only place he can return to. Jamaica, for its part, says it cannot block his entry because he hasn't. Glenmore Hinds, Jamaica's assistant police chief, said Monday that el-Faisal has committed no crime in Jamaica and thus cannot be refused.

This reasoning distresses Mustafa Muhammad, who’s called an emergency meeting of all Jamaican Muslims to discuss el-Faisal’s impending return.

“I am extremely concerned about his return," he said from Kingston. "We have no idea with whom he has been associating with for more than a year. This is a poor country, where security is not as rigid as elsewhere. We are very concerned of the possibility of people infiltrating our community.”

First the good news - Muhammad’s proaction. That Jamaica’s chief Muslim authority is advocating against el-Faisal and raising awareness of his return is notable in itself. He also seems ready to cooperate with US authorities if need be. Though el-Faisal may not be effected by Muhammad’s authority, he must still deal with being blackballed on a relatively small island and a smaller Muslim population - estimated at 5,000 out of 3 million.

Muhammad has barred el-Faisael from entering the 10 mosques on Jamaica, and it’s hard to believe el-Faisal will find serious sanctuary to operate freely.

Now the bad news. As guerrillas often prove, sleeper cells are just as dangerous as mass movements. A handful of connections are all el-Faisal needs to get on his feet, whether he intends to merely survive out of sight or plot anew against the West. Nor is the fact that Jamaica put him on its “watchlist” sufficiently comforting.

Beyond recent US intelligence failures and an outdated “watchlist,” el-Faisal was able to sneak into Kenya undetected on December 24th, 2009, from Tanzania, because of a computer error. The UK's handling of him is incomprehensible too if el-Faisal is as dangerous as claimed. Barring him from UK thrusts him onto the rest of the world to deal with.

Then there’s the fact that el-Faisal isn’t technically an al-Qaeda operative - certainly no militant, at least not yet. He’s not going to plot and launch attacks so much as generically encourage all Muslims to attack the West. He simply has to lie low, become a symbol of resistance, and wait for others to complete his vision.

And the NYT report just elevated his profile unintentionally.

At the moment el-Faisal isn’t a cause for concern. Kenyan authorities just sent him to Gambia rather than Jamaica, and he could be placed under house arrest or jailed if he actually returns. But counterinsurgency is about perceiving threats that have yet to manifest, not reacting to the enemy's movements. el-Faisal already constitutes a danger, and future threats must be anticipated if America is to have any hope of success in its “War on Terror.”

U.S. collaboration with Jamaican intelligence is therefore critical and likely already underway. Any hint of militarism, however, is unacceptable. Jamaica is a small, isolated country with a tiny Muslim population, making it an ideal psuedo-prison to monitor el-Faisal. This shouldn't be too difficult.

Conversely, failure to counter his movements, words, or influence while holding such an advantage would reveal how helpless America is to contain its global war against Islamic militants.

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