In the United States, a picture is emerging of the personalities behind last Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. Thanks to the technologies of the digital age, the histories of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been traced from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Russia and Chechnya, with links found as far away as Australia and Malaysia.
As authorities sifted through the two suspects’ social media accounts, from Twitter to YouTube and beyond, they came across a rant by Australian cleric Feiz Muhammad, an advocate of jihad and violence in the cause of militant Islam, among other sentiments from the Muslim fringe.
Sadly, this was what moderate Muslims feared most: a homegrown backyard terrorist operation cooked up by a quirky mix of ethnic-based dissatisfactions entwined with a God factor.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The appearance of Feiz Muhammad on a YouTube account held by Tamerlan would only add to such angst. A former Australian boxer of Lebanese descent, Muhammad did the authorities at home a favor when he packed his bags and headed back to Lebanon, before moving to Malaysia about six years ago.
In the 1990s, Malaysia was a focal point for would be jihadists, particularly the fledgling Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a heavily structured, well-funded affiliate of al-Qaeda, which carried out the Bali bombings in 2002 alongside a series of other attacks primarily on Indonesian soil in the ensuing years.
JI ended with the arrest and jailing of Umar Patek, who was initially detained in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in early 2011, a short distance from the safe house of Osama bin Laden, who was killed in May the same year.
However, their disciples remain at large, often preaching to the converted and those dabbling on the periphery of religious extremism. Feiz Muhammad ranks alongside the most fervent of these militant evangelists.
Muhammad says that women who are raped deserve it because they wear “satanic skirts, slit skirts, translucent blouses, miniskirts, tight jeans: all this to tease man and appeal to his carnal nature.” He encourages children to become jihadists, and has called for the beheading of Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
Other quotes by Muhammad include: "Jews are pigs that will be killed at the end of the world.” He released a collection of sermons on a DVD titled The Death Series, which has been investigated for sedition by Australian authorities. In the YouTube video that attracted Tamerlan’s attention, Muhammad targets Harry Potter for paganism.
Muhammad’s influence over Tamerlan will never be properly determined or fully understood. The 26-year-old was shot dead, while his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar was wounded and has been arrested.