Once a Qaeda Recruiter, Now a Voice Against Jihad

Source: The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the four years that he ran the Revolution Muslim website out of his walk-up apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Jesse Morton became one of the most prolific recruiters for Al Qaeda, luring numerous Americans to the group’s violent ideology.

The men and women he inspired through his online posts and tutorials were accused of plots that included flying a remote-controlled plane strapped with explosives into the Pentagon and trying to kill a Swedish cartoonist who satirized the Prophet Muhammad. One of his collaboratorswas killed in a drone strike in Yemen, where he had joined Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Several are now fighting for the Islamic State.

“We were looking for the lions,” he said, explaining how he would often recruit right outside mosques, “and left them the lambs.”

Mr. Morton, 37, is now at the forefront of an experiment to counter the pull of groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. After a stint as an F.B.I.informant and his release from prison last year, Mr. Morton has been hired as a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, where he will research the very ideology he once spread.

Although countries like Britain have for years been putting former extremists to work in think tanks to provide authentic voices against radical ideology, Mr. Morton is the first former jihadist to step into this public a role in the United States.

That has not come without some anxiety for his new employer, said Lorenzo Vidino, the director of the extremism program at George Washington’sCenter for Cyber and Homeland Security. Dr. Vidino met with Mr. Morton after his release in February 2015, beginning a yearlong vetting process that involved interviewing seven law enforcement officials directly involved in his case.

“There was not a single dissenting voice,” Dr. Vidino said.

In an interview with The New York Times this month, after he was asked why anyone should believe he had truly changed, Mr. Morton insisted that he was trying to make amends.

“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,” he said. “I may never be able to repair the damage that I have done, but I think I can at least try.”

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