Tarek Mehanna, left, and Ahmad Abousamra,

Credit: Mehanna: Sudbury police; Abousamra: FBI.

Is Boston A Feeder City For ISIS?

September 25, 2014

President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared that the coalition of Arab allies joining in the U.S. attack on ISIS “makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.” And it seems that the organization the U.S. is fighting to destroy may be looking for a few allies of its own. ABC News reports that Boston is among three cities where the FBI is looking for people sympathetic to ISIS.

The initial report names Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis as fertile ground for ISIS recruitment, according to ABC’s Brian Ross.

The focus in Boston is on one man, Ahmad Abousamra, who is on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list. The FBI says Abousamra was born in France, grew up in Stoughton and attended Northeastern University for three years. What makes him dangerous in the view of the U.S. government is that he is a social media expert who is believed to be using his expertise on behalf of ISIS. His friend and fellow Bostonian, Tarek Mehanna, was arrested in Boston after returning from Yemen. Mehanna is now in prison convicted of conspiring to aid Al Qaeda in Iraq.

But are these two reason enough to identify Boston as a potential recruiting ground?

“Boston attracts a certain subset of people that are often bright and some of them are disenfranchised,” said Veryan Khan, who heads the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) an anti-terrorism research group.

So why is Boston a potential ISIS recruiting ground?

Experts cite three reasons:

  • The city is a hub for immigrants from everywhere.
  • It is easily accessible.
  • It boast the country’s largest student population.

"And you have to realize, that age range from 18 to 28, that’s ISIS’s wheel house," Khan said. "That’s who their targeted audience is."

Add to that the high level computer expertise of some ISIS recruits. This is what makes the potential Boston connection for ISIS recruitment alarming, Khan says.

"There’s a subset of hackers in the United States that are very minimally receptive, if not being actively recruited by Islamic State at this point," Khan said. "ISIS is reaching out to the Boston tech community … We know there is a Boston-ISIS connection.”

But Gov. Deval Patrick is pushing back against the idea of a terrorism pipeline to Boston and the analysis by some research organizations like TRAC. Patrick says that the evidence simply is not there.

“I know the intelligence and what I’m saying is that none of the experts — federal or state or local terrorism and law enforcement experts — characterize the city or the community that way.”

But terrorism experts say at the very least, Boston’s wide and diverse student population, its intellectual community and its immigrant diaspora represents an opportunity for recruitment for ISIS, an organization U.S. government officials believe has succeeded in reaching way beyond its base in the Middle East.


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