Lessons from the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of "Ten Most Wanted" fugitives dates back to 1950 but the list of "Most Wanted Terrorists" dates back to just after 9/11 and a sense that terrorism had become a strategic threat. Today, the list includes 31 individuals, all of them male and with a single exception (Daniel Andreas San Diego, an animal rights extremist), all of them Muslim. The number refers their year of birth:
(1) Muslims make up 30 out of 31 most wanted terrorists, or about 97 percent of them. That's a pretty good indication of what Bernard Lewis' 1990 article famously called "Muslim rage" and why Islam-related issues have such prominence.
(2) Islamists make up 26 out of those 30; only the four perpetrators of the Pan Am 73 hijacking in 1986 (Rahim, Rahayyal, Munawar, Turki), all connected to the Abu Nidal Organization, are not Islamists (or at least were not in 1986). This predominance of jihad reflects the Islamist hegemony among politically extreme Muslims.
(3) Ethnic Arabs make up 25 of the 30 terrorists. The largest numbers are 4 each of Lebanese, Palestinians, and Saudis, 3 each of Americans and Egyptians. Non-ethnic Arabs include 2 Filipinos, 1 Malaysian, 1 Pakistani, and 1 American convert. This high percentage confirms the sense that Arabic-speakers have the most pent-up hostility toward Americans.
(4) Most attacks by these most wanted fugitives date from the 1980s and 1990s – Khobar, TWA 847, East African embassies, WTC bombing. Symbolically of this relative antiquity, the only American airlines attacked by them were Pan American and TWA, both long defunct. This points to the greater success since 9/11 in both foiling and tracking terrorism, thanks to greater resources and more diligence.
(5) Also reflecting the long-ago quality of this most wanted list, note the striking pattern of their decadal birthdates:
The average age is close to 50 – not exactly the prime time of life for terrorism. The youngest listee, Hammami, will be 29 years old in less than a week. The eldest two, Umari and Sahiron, are approaching 80. (April 30, 2013)
May 2, 2013 update: In an odd move, the FBI today announced the addition of Joanne Chesimard (aka Assata Shakur) to the "Most Wanted Terrorists List." Count the ways it is odd:
Chesimard should not only be jailed but should be executed for the 1973 murder. That said, she is 65 years old and writing books in Cuba, a threat to no one. Her sudden inclusion on the terrorism list makes no sense on a list that should focus on the "armed and extremely dangerous" thugs who live among us.
The terrorism list is poorly crafted and in dire need of both definition and updating; it is an embarrassment.
June 20, 2013 update: On behalf of the U.S. Department of State's Rewards for Justice program, the Seattle area Joint Terrorism Task Force placed an advertisement on 46 Seattle buses that replicates half the most-wanted terrorist list between two taglines: "Faces of Global Terrorism" and "Stop a Terrorist. Save Lives. Up to $25 Million Reward."
Jim McDermott, a local left wing congressman, wrote in protest to FBI Director Robert Mueller about his "deep concern" that the ad is racist. According to him, the "ad featuring sixteen photos of wanted terrorists is not only offensive to Muslims and ethnic minorities, but it encourages racial and religious profiling. Representing terrorists, however, from only one ethnic or religious group, promotes stereotypes and ignores other forms of extremism. The FBI's 'Most Wanted Terrorists List' includes individuals of other races and associated with other religions and causes, but their faces are missing from this campaign." McDermott argues that the "bus ad will likely only serve to exacerbate the disturbing trend of hate crimes against Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Muslim-Americans."
McDermott also noted that only two of the thirty-two Most Wanted Terrorists are not Muslim.
June 25, 2013 update: McDermott gets his way and the JTTF bus ads will soon be taken down. Ads without photos will remain.
Comment: Reality is too much for some people to handle. Sadly, they have real power.
June 26, 2013 update: M. Zudhi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, eloquently responded to McDermott:
Whereas McDermott said, "You look at the pictures, they're all one color of folks." Jasser pointed out that "a number of those individuals are white, they're Caucasian."
July 16, 2013 update: A letter to Canada's TheSpec:
Reader comments (24) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes