In late February, federal authorities indicted yet another American citizen for working with Al Qaeda, alleging that Ahmed Abu Ali, in conjunction with a number of Saudi Al Qaeda operatives, had conspired to assassinate President Bush. Abu Ali is only the latest example of homegrown American jihadis.
Indoctrinated in extremist Islamic schools and mosques--just as Abu Ali was at the Islamic Saudi Academy and the Dar al-Hijrah mosque, both in Virginia--these young men are taught a virulently anti-Western and anti-Semitic world view that fosters a ferocious hatred for America. Oftentimes, this radical ideology is imparted by mentors seeking to advance the agenda of militant Islam.
One such mentor was Omar Bayoumi, who emerged as a central figure in the 9/11 investigation due to the considerable assistance he provided two of the hijackers. In his book, Intelligence Matters, Senator Bob Graham – head of the Congressional Joint Inquiry on 9/11--labeled Bayoumi a Saudi intelligence agent. Moreover, according to The Joint Inquiry, Bayoumi had “connections to terrorist elements.” That report further noted that an “exhaustive translation of his [Bayoumi’s] documents made it clear that…he is providing guidance to young Muslims and some of his writings can be interpreted as jihadist.”
One young Muslim who crossed paths with Bayoumi was Clayton Morgan.
A former motorcycle racer raised by a wealthy family, Morgan--a fifth generation American--once entertained lofty goals. In 1998, as he stood first in line to hear Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr testify in Washington D.C., he proudly declared, “I want to be President of the United States…There’s no higher calling than public office.”
But Morgan’s life soon took a far different course. After the US bombed Iraq in 1998, Morgan converted to Islam and adopted two names: Isamu Dyson and Cayson Bin Don. While living in California, Morgan spent time with Bayoumi, as well as 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.
On February 1, 2000, Morgan and Bayoumi drove from San Diego to Los Angeles to visit the Saudi consulate. During that trip, the two men stopped to eat at a restaurant in Culver City. At the restaurant, according to Bayoumi, he overheard al-Hazmi and al-Midhar “speaking in…Gulf Arabic and struck up a conversation,” during which he offered to help them settle in San Diego. The 9/11 Commission struggled mightily to assess this interaction with the hijackers, noting uncertainty about “whether the lunch encounter occurred by chance or design.” Nonetheless, the Commission commented that Morgan’s recollection of parts of the day is “spotty and inconsistent.”
Shortly after the restaurant meeting, al-Hazmi and al-Midhar followed Bayoumi and Morgan to San Diego. Bayoumi immediately helped the two Saudis by finding them an apartment, co-signing their lease, and providing a certified check for the deposit. Then, to welcome them to the community, Bayoumi also organized a small gathering at their apartment, which he instructed Morgan to videotape.
Following this get together, Morgan’s activities are difficult to trace.
That is until he showed up in the most unlikely of places: Portland, Maine, the launch point for hijackers Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari on 9/11.
Toiling in obscurity as a janitorial supervisor in Portland prior to 9/11, Morgan quickly gained notoriety after the attacks. According to The New York Post, three days after the Twin Towers collapsed, Morgan voiced his support for the atrocity to two Portland police officers during a meeting at a local mosque and told them that he would never tip authorities off if he knew of an impending attack.
Then, on September 26, 2001, he attempted to purchase an assault rifle and a handgun from a Portland gun shop. Thankfully, his effort failed; a Portland newspaper reported that a background check revealed Morgan’s ex-wife had filed a temporary restraining order against him.
But these incidents paled in comparison to what happened on October 15. That day, Morgan became public enemy number one in New York after the front page of The New York Post labeled him a “Traitor.”
With a curved gold-handed dagger and a three-foot sword on his belt, Morgan, identified in the piece as “Isanu Dyson”, told The Post: “I would consider it more noble for me to go and get myself out of the country, renounce my citizenship, end up in Afghanistan, pick up a gun and fight alongside everyone else against the enemy - American soldiers.” In Morgan’s estimation, he was “a Muslim-American, not an American-Muslim” and thus had “a greater obligation to them than to anybody.”
In The Post piece, a venomous Morgan also voiced his support for targeting government workers in the Pentagon, and added, “Osama bin Laden says he wasn't involved - that is enough for me.”
Equally disturbing is a revelation by Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood: Morgan had applied for a job at the Portland International Jet Port as a refueler.
After The Post article appeared, a federal grand jury in New York City subpoenaed Morgan. Denying any links to terrorism, Morgan argued that his statements had been taken out of context.
An address report places Morgan in Santa Barbara, California as recently as January 2005. While Morgan may never act on his anti-American, jihadist beliefs, there are devoted American members of Al Qaeda who are fully committed to harming their fellow citizens in the name of Allah. A videotaped message from former Orange County, California resident Adam Gadahn – himself a convert – brings this point home: “After decades of American tyranny and oppression, now it’s your turn to die. Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America’s victims.” Fully aware of the immense value of an American passport, Al Qaeda has placed a premium on recruiting US citizens. As the US military launches another campaign to track down Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar in the remotest corners of Pakistan and Afghanistan, we would be well served to acknowledge the danger lurking within our own borders.
Josh Lefkowitz and Lorenzo Vidino are terrorism analysts at the Investigative Project.