As I’ve documented in two previous articles in recent months, “Jihad U” and “Saudi Press Plugs America’s Jihad U”, the Al-Maghrib Institute has quickly become the most popular Islamic studies program in North America featuring active programs in almost 20 different cities across the country and thousands of supporters nationwide. With strong ties to both the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment and the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Maghrib has leveraged its flashy presentations and motivational-style speakers to advance a radical jihadist ideology and extremist religious worldview. Thus far, at least one apt Al-Maghrib pupil has been willing to follow the implications of those teachings and put his education to use by taking up arms as a willing participant in the global jihad.
In a federal courtroom in Houston on April 19th, Daniel Joseph Maldonado, a.k.a. Daniel Aljughaifi, pled guilty to receiving training from a foreign terrorist organization – the first American to ever plead guilty to waging jihad overseas according to a Department of Justice press release. Maldonado was captured by Kenyan military forces in January of this year as the dwindling forces of the al-Qaeda-linked Somali Islamic Courts Union were attempting to flee from Ethiopian and Somali troops that had taken back most of Somalia from the terrorist organization’s control. He was turned over the American authorities in February, and following to his guilty plea he is due to be sentenced on June 29th.
According to a Houston Chronicle article, Maldonado grew up in New Hampshire the son of Puerto Rican immigrants and converted as an adult to Islam along with his wife. They both were high school drop-outs and their first child was born out-of-wedlock. Soon after converting, Maldonado began forcing his wife to wear a burqa, and the two allegedly fought after he had caught her shopping in jeans and a blouse.
Maldonado’s jihad student internship began when he moved to Egypt with his family in November 2005. In September 2006, he began explosives training in two al-Qaeda camps with an Islamic Courts Union bomb maker, was issued an AK-47, and equipped with military uniforms and boots. His military and physical fitness training continued until December, when he joined Islamic Courts Union forces tasked to defend against the military campaign by joint Ethiopian and Somali troops to reinstall the UN-recognized Somali government.
His connection to Al-Maghrib began when he moved to Houston to work for the company that owned and administered the notorious ClearGuidance.com jihadist online forum. While he was living in Houston he joined Al-Maghrib’s program, and the Al-Maghrib online forum still carries his public profile.
My critics will accuse me of engaging in guilt by association by noting Maldonado’s ties to the Al-Maghrib Institute. They will claim that he wasn’t actively involved with the organization or possibly even deny that any tie existed at all (though his online profile on the Al-Maghrib’s website would quickly put that claim to rest). I will readily admit that probably few Al-Maghrib students are currently planning to engage in violent or terrorist activities.
But nothing that Maldonado learned in his time with Al-Maghrib would contradict his jihadist ideology; quite the contrary, it would have reinforced it. Fed a steady diet of justifications for jihad, recitations of grievances against non-Muslims, and recounting of the history of Islamic imperialism and triumphalism, Maldonado’s extremist views found a nurturing environment in the Al-Maghrib Institute. He arrived in Houston with pre-existing radical views, but left Houston a jihadist. And even in Africa, Maldonado continued to log-on to Al-Maghrib’s online forums, for his latest activity on the website is dated August 21, 2006 – almost a year after he left Houston for Egypt.
Admittedly, only Daniel Maldonado can answer the question of how influential Al-Maghrib’s teachings were to developing his jihadist views or how his matriculation in Jihad U prepared him for his student internship waging jihad in Somalia.
An article in the North Andover Eagle-Tribune notes that Maldonado’s court-appointed attorney has claimed that his client had renounced his violent beliefs before his arrest, even though he was captured while traveling with other members of the Islamic Courts Union terrorist organization. Maldonado has also told law enforcement authorities that he didn’t believe the 9/11 attacks were evil and he wouldn’t have a problem killing other Americans. Hopefully, the federal judge in his case will take that into consideration when deciding his prison sentence.
Tragically, Maldonado’s wife, Tamekia, paid the ultimate price for her husband’s jihadist ideology. The Houston Chronicle reports that she died of malaria while the family was attempting to flee from Somalia, just days before Maldonado was captured by Kenyan troops. She is buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown location somewhere in Somalia. Her mother only learned of her daughter’s fate when the US Embassy in Nairobi contacted her after her son-in-law’s capture. The Maldonado’s now-orphaned children were flown back the US by the US government and are being cared for by his parents in Londonderry, New Hampshire – three additional innocent victims of the global jihad.
Al-Maghrib has thus far not issued any public statement on their former pupil.