Former Charlotte Resident Samir Khan Dies In Yemen
Fri September 30, 2011
Former Charlotte Resident Samir Khan Dies In Yemen Attack
A former Charlotte man was killed Friday morning in Yemen in the same air-strike that killed radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki. U.S. officials have confirmed the death of Samir Khan. WFAE's Julie Rose reports Khan gained prominence operating a pro-al-Qaida website from his Charlotte home.
Samir Khan was born in Saudi Arabia, but raised in New York City. He came to Charlotte with his family in 2004. He was in his early 20s, studying computers at CPCC. He would soon launch one of the most popular websites for al-Qaida supporters, featuring anti-American rants and videos of suicide bombings.
Until the New York Times outed Khan as the website's founder in 2007, the people who prayed alongside him at the Islamic Center of Charlotte had no idea what he was up to.
"He was kind of a loner," says Jibril Hough, a spokesman for the Islamic Center.
"He didn't really have many associates or friends, so when you would see him from time to time, he would come pray and then he would leave."
Hough asked WFAE talk to him at a public park rather than at the mosque, because Friday is the Muslim day of worship and the local Muslim community has struggled to distance itself from Khan:
"Yes, he lived here for awhile and you could say he was a loosely member of the Charlotte community, but he was not a product of us and we didn't want to get the signals to get mixed in that," Hough says.
Khan told the New York Times in 2007 he developed his anti-American sentiment and fundamentalist views of Islamic jihad while living in New York. Hough says he was part of an intervention that tried to set Khan straight. The intervention included Khan's father and a few key leaders in the Muslim community.
"We met twice and really tried to show him what was in front of him. It was the wrong path the wrong road - we tried to at least get him to channel his creativity, his talents in a better, more positive direction, instead of going down this road."
It didn't work. In 2009, Khan left Charlotte for Yemen. He turned up six months later as the editor of a new online magazine from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. "Inspire" is the magazine's name and more than a half dozen issues have since come out - written in English, with colorful pictures and helpful hints for planning attacks on America.
In one issue, Khan wrote about his personal path to jihad, titled "I Am Proud to Be a Traitor to America." (Find the article on pages 45-49) The most recent edition of Inspire came out in September - marking the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks and praising them as the "Greatest Special Operation of all time."
Khan's work with the magazine connected him to Al Qaeda and the radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki whose influence has been linked to a number of attacks including the Fort Hood shooting. When Jibril Hough got word that Samir Khan had been killed alongside Al-Awlaki in a U.S. airstrike early Friday morning, he was partly relieved. He had feared that Khan would pop up someday in connection with a terrorist attack:
"That call we never got. So if there's any relief, it can be relief in that," Hough says. "But, you know, he was also a human being and when someone passes away, regardless of what they did or what they thought, it's not a happy day."
Hough called Khan's father as soon as he got word of Samir's death and ended up breaking the news to him. Hough says Samir Khan has not been in touch with his family since leaving for Yemen.
"It's been hard for them to deal with this publicly. This is your child and you're kind of embarrassed, frustrated, a number of emotions. They've tried to stay away from the media because they have to live here and work here. A lot of folks in the Charlotte area may not draw the line - they may think Samir's a product of his home, his upbringing, his family - and he's not," Hough says.
"He's clearly someone who found something to believe in outside of his house and he went down the road and did not listen to his parents - or did not listen to even myself, other leaders in the community who tried to intervene and correct him."
In that personal essay Khan wrote for Inspire Magazine last year, he blames America for standing in the way of "Islam's claim to power in the modern world." He talks about arriving in Yemen from Charlotte and riding in a car to a mujahedeen base. Watching the "tall mud houses" and "mysterious twirls of the sand dunes" go by, he realized his life was about to change.
"I was about to officially become a traitor of the country I grew up in for most of my life," writes Khan "I thought about many of the possible effects it could have on my life; but whatever they were, I was ready for it."
That choice ultimately led to his death at the hands of his own countrymen. Early Friday morning, the CIA and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command attacked a convoy in Yemen, killing Khan and another American - Anwar Al-Awlaki.