At first glance, the photo that was broadcast by the media looked like it was part of a promotional clip. That was before we were certain that the man in the photo, Faisal Shahzad, an American of Pakistani origin, was responsible for packing a car with explosives in Times Square in New York. In the photo, the young man’s appearance, his tanned facial features, his smile and his sunglasses made him look like any other fashionable young man appearing in an advertisement. But in fact, or at the very least, what has been proven to be true is that this young man of Kashmiri descent is another model of what is now called Al Qaeda’s third generation.
What is known about Shahzad proves that there is now a new category of Jihadists with new characteristics; successful, well-educated, born into a rich family, spent years in the West and very knowledgeable about modern means of communication.
According to the information leaked during investigations, Shahzad admitted that he frequently listened to the speeches and lessons of the American Sheikh of Yemeni descent, Anwar al Awlaki, who is currently in hiding in Yemen.
There are now investigations into whether Shahzad met al Awlaki in person in Yemen or whether he is just one of his followers who communicate with him via the internet. Al Awlaki spent over half his life in the US and is believed to be the spiritual leader of two of the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. Anybody who listens to al Awlaki’s speeches on the internet should recognize his great ability to communicate with his followers on the internet. This Sheikh, who is considered a rising star among neo-Jihadist circles, makes the most of being fluent in English and Arabic in order to deliver his speeches and messages on various topics; from prayers and jihad against the US to the philosophy of marriage and ordinary life and his position towards death and its philosophy, sometimes the story Michael Jackson as an example.
For instance, al Awlaki’s numerous speeches on YouTube have been downloaded by thousands of visitors, the number of which varies according to the topic of the speech. Despite his appearance and his typical Yemeni features, al Awlaki’s tools of communication are purely Western in terms of his expressions, his approach, and the up-to-date examples he presents when discussing a certain issue, all of which are tinted by the Al Qaeda Islamic ideology.
It seems that al Awlaki has somewhat become a model [in his field] and just as popular as Michael Jackson was in his singing career. This comparison is an attempt to test an idea that was previously proposed; that terrorism has become a fashion with its own stars and fans. It is an ever-changing fashion and its stars are also consistently changing. A generation in the West whose characteristics are slightly different from others can now adopt this fashion. We are now facing a Western terrorist of Islamic origins.
Faisal Shahzad and others who preceded him such as Nidal Malik Hassan, Humam al-Balawi, Umar Farouk [Abdulmuttalib] and others have demonstrated the new features of Jihadists being formed via cyberspace. They are an Islamic generation of “modernized Jihadism” and the cyberspace has allowed them to further exchange expertise, skills, [and information on] killing and dying in an instant.