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White guys are playing an increasingly important role in Al Qaeda.

Resolved: Al Qaeda is recruiting white guys

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In the wake of the Holocaust Museum shootings, a recent report from the Department of Homeland Security calling “white supremacist lone wolves” the “most significant domestic terrorist threat” has been the subject of much discussion. But Neo-Nazis aren’t the only white terrorists worth worrying about.

White guys are also playing an increasingly important role in Al Qaeda.

Last January, an article in The Scotsman reported that “senior security sources” inside the British government claimed that Al Qaeda has recruited “as many as 1,500 white Britons.” Many of these new recruits were reportedly converted to Islam by radical fundamentalists while in prison. Some experts doubt the existence of this so-called “white army of terror,” but Al Qaeda is definitely embracing the powers of diversity.

Adding white men could make the group more dangerous than ever, says New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright, an Al Qaeda expert who wrote The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. “If Al Qaeda can transcend its stereotype,” he told us, “than they will become a lot more difficult to police.” Wright says that although “prison conversions have been a concern for law enforcement authorities… there hasn’t been much evidence” to support claims of thousands of white Al Qaeda members in U.K. jails. Al Qaeda may not have armies of jihadists in British prisons, but it has been making progress with white recruits in other areas of Europe.

Al Qaeda has had a presence in the Balkans for years. In 2007, three men were jailed after being accused of plotting to blow up the British Embassy in Sarajevo. Investigators say the group had links to terrorists in the UK and Denmark. According to the Jamestown Foundation, a D.C. think tank, information uncovered during the case indicates “the possibility of a ‘white Al-Qaeda’ network operating from Western to Southeastern Europe.” Also in 2007, German authorities arrested three men—Fritz Gelowicz, a Muslim convert from Munich—in an alleged bomb plot.

White men from outside Europe have gotten involved with Al Qaeda too. Last year, the New York Times claimed that a “senior intelligence official” in Washington told them of new evidence that “Qaeda operatives in Pakistan were training Westerners, most likely including American citizens, to carry out attacks.” In 2001, Australian David Hicks and the so-called “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh were caught by coalition troops in Afghanistan and charged by the U.S. government with having ties to Al Qaeda. Lindh’s Qaeda connections are questionable, but Hicks is known to have attended the organization’s training camps, where he met Osama bin Laden on multiple occasions.
Some of Al Qaeda’s white recruits, still at large, are already making headlines around the world. In May, Al Qaeda-backed Somali militant group Al-Shabaab released a video featuring a man known as Abu Mansoor, “the American.” Mansoor is believed to be an ex-Green Beret who works with Shabaab forces on behalf of Al Qaeda. In the video, Mansoor reads rap lyrics and commands a group of Al-Shabaab fighters during an ambush. According to Wright, Somalia is strategically important to Al Qaeda and Mansoor’s position there indicates that he’s a vital member of the organization.

The most infamous white member of Al Qaeda is Adam Gadahn. Gadahn is an Al Qaeda spokesman who was born in Oregon and has reportedly helped write speeches for Osama bin Laden. Over the years, there have been rumors of Gadahn’s death, but the FBI is still offering a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Wright says it’s “completely possible” that Gadahn is dead because he’s been conspicuously absent from the public eye lately. “If I were bin Laden,” he told us, “and I had Adam Gadahn ready to put on the field right now, I would put him into play.”

Gadahn may be gone, but apparently there’s no shortage of other white guys ready to take his place.

Hunter Walker is a writer from Brooklyn, New York

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