George Washington University (GWU) hired a former al-Qaeda recruiter to bring a “unique perspective” to the university’s center on homeland security.
Jesse Morton, formerly known as Younus Abdullah Muhammad, was charged and taken into custody in November 2011 for making threats against the creators of the television series, “South Park,” because of an episode that depicted the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit. Morton had worked with a colleague to make online threats and justification of death under Islamic law for individuals who insult Islam or the prophet Mohammed.
He and his colleagues were also investigated in 2010 by police for ties to a failed car bombing operation in Times Square, New York City. His past recruits were responsible for a plethora of global crimes, including plots of flying a remote-controlled plane with explosives into the Pentagon and attempting to murder a Swedish cartoonist for drawing the prophet Mohammed.
Several of Morton’s recruits are currently still working for ISIS.
Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at GWU’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, said he fully “trusts” his newest employee, who he believes has “reformed” since serving time in federal prison after committing several crimes such as working for a global terrorist organization and encouraging people to join.
“We haven’t figured out how to reach that individual who’s going down the path of radicalization,” Hughes said. “Jesse has been in that world and got out of that world.”
Morton founded Revolution Muslim, an Islamic organization based in New York, in 2007 after he and his also-American cofounder Zachary Adam Chesser, had converted to Islam. The two, along with their friend who was operating from Morocco, Yousef Al-Khattab, eventually were all arrested and convicted in U.S. courts by November 2013 due to their threats to national security. Chesser pleaded guilty to all federal charges and received a sentence of 25 years in prison.
Despite his imprisonment, Morton had continued to operate his Islamic propagandist website from behind bars until he was released on May 23, 2015 after he reversed to his non-Islamic alias and apologized for his ‘mistakes.’
“As many people as may have traveled, or may have committed criminal acts, because of my words, I hope that I can deter just as many,” Morton said. “I may never be able to repair the damage that I have done, but I think I can at least try.”
Nadia Oweidat, a fellow at New America, told CNN she trusts Morton’s “sincerity,” and compared his recent “coming out” as a non-radical to coming out as gay.
“When an extremist defects, they risk being completely targeted by their community — it’s like saying you’re gay publicly,” she said. “There are life-altering consequences and you don’t approach it lightly.”
Oweidat denied Morton would pretend to not be an extremist simply to get out of federal prison. She said she thinks more organizations should employ former Islamic extremists because “they know the way in and they know the way out.” Besides, she added, the act of joining a terrorist organization and committing mass murder could simply be a reversible “phase.”
“People go through phases. They evolve and are finally able to see the light,” she said.
As a fellow at GWU’s Program on Extremism, Morton’s job will be to perform research on Islamic terrorism and aid in developing strategies to counter terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.
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