Jewish Man From New Jersey Who Led Radical Islamist Website Voices Regret Ahead of Sentencing
Joseph Leonard Cohen, a Jew raised in New Jersey and Brooklyn who studied at an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem in his early 20s, returned to the U.S. in 2000, converted to Islam and changed his name to Yousef al-Khattab.
In 2007, al-Khattab and recent Columbia University graduate Jesse Morton, now known as Younes Abdullah Mohammed, launched controversial website RevolutionMuslim.com.
In the two years the hate site thrived before being shut down by police, RevMuslim preached radical Islamist ideology, shared training videos over YouTube with millions of Muslims around the world and called for death threats against Jews.
In 2009, al-Khattab posted a video of violence in the Gaza Strip then encouraged RevMuslim readers to seek out Jewish leaders in the U.S. and “deal with them directly in their homes.” He posted a photo of a Jewish organization in Brooklyn, complete with directions and a note that it tended to be full at prayer time.
Al-Khattab was arrested and tried, and, in October, 2013, pleaded guilty to using the RevMuslim website to “place persons affiliated with Jewish organizations … in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.” On Friday he was awaiting sentencing for up to five years in prison.
In an interview on NPR on Thursday, al-Khattab claimed remorse.
“I pleaded, I don’t know the exact wording of it, but it was disseminating a threat on the Internet,” al-Khattab told NPR. “What I did was stupid and it was wrong and I am paying the price for that now, period.”
Still, in the interview, al-Khattab confused the intentions of Islam with what he was actually telling internet readers to do, namely, harm Jews.
“They interpreted me giving the message of Islam as being a threat to the Jewish community, which it wasn’t,” he began explaining.
When asked by NPR how providing addresses and pictures of people in the Jewish community after an anti-Semitic screed could possibly be misinterpreted, he said, “OK, OK. I am not defending that.”
Al-Khattab said, “I thought we had stayed on the right side of the line with regard to free speech. But it appears we went over it, we went too far, and, I’ll say it, we were wrong.”
Al-Khattab told NPR that his prison sentence could become a rallying cry in the radical forums that he helped create where he might be lionized as a religious warrior — “a mujahadid.”
He said, “This was stupidity and this is what happens when you hang out with the wrong people. So it is my fault. I know when I go to jail, they will be, ‘Allah, Allah, he’s a mujahadid.’ I am not a mujahadid. I am a failure.”
Meanwhile, his website has helped to bring down many of the “wannabe” terrorists he encouraged. Between 2008 and last year, nearly every violent Islamist arrested in the U.S. on terrorism charges had some connection to the group, NPR said.
Terrorists caught from leads on the site include, “Jihad Jane,” from Philadelphia, arrested in 2009 for plotting to kill a cartoonist who had drawn Prophet Muhammad; Samir Khan, from North Carolina, who edited an al-Qaeda magazine and was killed by a drone while riding in the same vehicle as radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen; and RevMuslim blogger Zachary Chesser, from Virginia, arrested while boarding a flight to Somalia where he was to join al-Shabab, a group linked to al-Qaeda.
NPR quoted Mitch Silber, formerly the New York Police Department’s highest-ranking terrorism expert and head of its Terrorism Analysis Division, who said:
“RevMuslim became very proactive in the New York City area, both publicly, doing demonstrations on the streets on New York City, as well as online, having a pretty significant Internet component to their efforts. Al-Khattab was one of the two leaders of the group, he was a chief propagandist, he was an organizer, he was a provocateur.”