Boston terror suspects’ social media posts reveal little overt extremism, experts say
Usaama Rahim liked an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria page on Facebook but also spoke out against the kind of violence ISIS extremists are fomenting across the Middle East.
In his public postings, the knife-wielding 26-year-old, who was fatally shot by members of Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force on Tuesday, appeared to be a conservative Muslim, frowning on women plucking their eyebrows and musing on the proper length for men’s robes.
- Boston terror suspect allegedly planned to behead police
His decision to like the Islamic State in Iraq page concerns some moderate Muslim leaders who reviewed his social media postings with The Associated Press, but they note he posted no bloody pictures and made none of the violent calls to arms many supporters of armed extremist groups espouse on social media.
Killing people is anti-Islamic, Rahim wrote, arguing a key tenet of the faith is “we do not fight evil with that which causes a greater evil.”
Rahim, who was buried in a private ceremony in Boston on Friday, had known he was being watched by the FBI: He posted about that, too, back in 2012, writing that he had hung up on an FBI agent who called wanting to talk about “allegations.”
“If you let them get close, trust me, they’ll have you making statements about things that could get you jail-time,” he wrote. “Try again, monkey-boys.”
Reasons for police eavesdropping classified
He taunted the agents again later that day, after he said an FBI agent had asked a neighbour about him.
It’s just premature to speculate. Not enough evidence has been out there. We just need all the facts to come out.– Ibrahim Hooper, Council on American-Islamic Relations
“They are persistent but guess what, they got nothing on me. Keep on coming, you stupid fools and I’ll sue the crap out of you for harassment,” he wrote.
The task force intensified its surveillance of Rahim to an around-the-clock detail at least seven days before this week’s fatal confrontation, after Rahim bought three military-style knives on Amazon.com. Agents listening to his phone calls also heard his nephew, David Wright, say something they interpreted as a reference to beheading, according to an FBI affidavit.
Police Commissioner William Evans said officers decided to take Rahim down after he was overheard saying, “I’m just going to, ah, go after them, those boys in blue.”
Evans said the reasons for the eavesdropping of Rahim are classified. Many other questions remain unanswered, and his Facebook postings provide only a partial glimpse of his thinking. Federal investigators said he espoused extreme views online but have not revealed details.
Terrorism experts caution that extremists often chat, plot and recruit not on open social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter but in darker corners of the Internet, such as chat rooms and on blogs not readily viewable or even searchable by the public. Rahim’s relatives doubt he was radicalized. Their lawyer, Ronald Sullivan, said the allegations came as a “complete shock.”
Rahim’s older brother Ibrahim Rahim called him a patriotic, loyal U.S. citizen and proud Bostonian.
Premature to speculate
Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, cautioned against drawing conclusions based on limited information.
“It’s just premature to speculate,” he said. “Not enough evidence has been out there. We just need all the facts to come out.”
Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, also noted that Rahim liked the page of Mizanur Rahman, an extremist British Islamic activist. But other Islamic information sources he liked and cited are more mundane.
“You can certainly tell he’s a little bit more conservative,” Vali said after reviewing the accounts. “Nothing that I see here suggests he’s definitely moving toward violence.”
Aaron Zelin, who studies jihadist groups at the Washington Institute, also found no indicators of extremism in the Facebook accounts Rahim put on public view, but he cautioned that Rahim may have been active online in other ways that aren’t so easily seen.
“I don’t think we have the full picture in terms of possible privacy settings, but also other potential accounts,” he said. “I highly doubt he was only doing profile picture updates between 2013 and now.”
Wide range of of online posts
Rahim appears to have operated two Facebook accounts. In the first, using the name Abdur-Rahim Al-amreeki, he prolifically quoted and analyzed religious texts as if he were an accomplished scholar, instructing others on how to make their faith more pure. Those who don’t believe in Allah “are sent to the hell-fire if they die upon disbelief regardless of their charity while they were alive,” he warned.
“Stop selling your souls to democracy! If you want Shariah, work for it!” he wrote in 2012.
Rahim wrote that Muslims should be loyal to their leaders, including the royal family of Saudi Arabia. He occasionally posted dark images — one is an apocalyptic illustration of an ancient building destroyed and twisted into the word “RAGE” — but he also posted about playing Tetris online and liked pages on gummy bears, baseball and Jerry Springer.
He apparently made no reference to his older brother, a respected Muslim scholar known for preaching against violence after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
Rahim’s Facebook accounts are linked by an identical post about his wedding in 2013, in which he thanked his family for helping him “devour all of that great food cooked by mother and mother in law.”
The AP was unable to find any Twitter account for Rahim, but Wright, who was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation on the day his uncle was shot, opened two of them. He sent just three tweets, one of which expressed sympathy with ISIS. He also followed Rahman, the extremist Briton.