AK-47 aloft, his right hand raised and pointing to the sky, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, 29, stands on a Syrian hillside and stares defiantly into the camera.
Six months ago the father of nine from Minnesota was shooting hoops in Uptown Minneapolis. He was neither overtly religious nor politically vocal.
Today he is one of as many as 15 young Somali-Americans from the Twin Cities currently under investigation by the FBI for having travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
First revealed by Somali-American journalist Mukhtar Ibrahim in a report for MPR News, Muhumed is one of the latest wave of radicalized young Americans, targeted by ISIS terrorists promoting a chilling phenomenon that security experts have dubbed, ‘Jihad Cool.’
Rap videos, romanticized notions of revolution and adventure and first-hand accounts of the ‘fun’ of guerrilla war are the latest tactics used by militant recruiters as part of what experts have identified as an, ‘intensification of radicalization,’ both in the States and beyond.
One unverified propaganda video, titled ‘IslamicState Work Out Video’ shows masked men apparently going through an SAS style boot camp, while in testimonies, many posted on YouTube, leaders, recruiters and seasoned fighters deliver their potent message. According to recent security research, such online activity is a powerful tool that increasingly, ‘prods an individual towards violence.’
A Congressional Research Center study into 18,130 entries in 2,112 online discussions from more than 15 Arabic language jihadist forums has recently revealed that ‘one fifth of all discussions include an explicit call for more terrorist attacks.
‘Overall two thirds of all discussions contain some form of call for our encouragement of terrorist attacks.’
Figures such as Abu Muhammad al Amriki (‘the American’) provide ‘inspirational’ footage in a bid to further the cause and swell numbers. ISIS fighter Al Amriki is one of the more high profile ‘American jihadist’ to have taken to the public stage. Online images of al Amriki abound, as pictures of him heavily armed and posing with his ‘brothers’ in Jihad vie for priority alongside videos of him fighting or proselytizing.
A video posted on YouTube in February shows him speaking in heavily accented English. Though it is not certain from where Abu Muhammad al Amriki originates, he claims to have lived in the States for 10 or 11 years before travelling to Syria and to have fought for the Al Nusrah Front, once affiliated with Al Qaeda, before becoming a jihadist for ISIS.
In recent days, tweets and social media messages posted by extremists from Britain who have already arrived in the Middle East have shown the chilling reality of ‘jihad cool’ writ large.
In messages that read like tips from music festival goers to fellow fans or student travellers to peers following in their footsteps, the militants urge others to join them. Travel light, bring a smart phone, but leave religious books at home to avoid suspicion at the airport they instruct.
Already 7,500 foreigners are believed to be fighting in Syria and Iraq. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has told Congress that there are more than 50 Americans among them, believed to be waging jihad in Syria.
The FBI has declined to release the identities of the Twin Cities Somali-Americans currently under investigation but they have confirmed that three-times married, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, is one of them.
Journalist Mukhtar Ibrahim first identified Muhumed last week and has communicated with him in brief Facebook exchanges during which, Mr Ibrahim told MailOnline, Muhumed told of his desire to ‘bring back the Caliphate (Islam State).’
According to Mr Ibrahim, Muhumed told him that if others consider him a terrorist ‘he is happy with it.’ Muhumed wrote,’Family is not gonna save me frm [sic] hell fire because muslims are getting kill[ed] and if I just sit here i will be ask in the [hereafter].’
In a Facebook posting on Jan 2 Muhumed stated,‘I give up this worldy life for Allah.’ The following day he posted a image of himself carrying the Qu’ran in one hand and holiding a rifle in the other, with the caption ‘Shaam’–the Islaimc name for Syria.
He went onto state that ISIS is ‘trying to bring back the Khilaafa’ and that ‘Allah loves those who fight for his cause.’
In one chilling image seen and described by Mr Ibrahim and posted by Muhumed on May 8 the head of a dead man is held up to the camera, his mouth slighty ajar. In a following image his head has bound tied with a yellow ribbon from the chin up, his eyes and mouth shut, ‘as if in preparation for burial.’
Mr Ibrahim said, ‘This is all an extreme shift as far as his friends were concerned. About four days before he left he told a friend he was leaving for London, for a vacation. So to see this guy in Syria was a complete shock. To his friends he was a cool guy. His profile was far from a religious guy.’
Friends told Mr Ibrahim that Muhumed had been passionate about the politics of Jubaland, a regional administration in Somalia but they were Mr Ibrahim said, ‘perplexed as to why Muhumed went to Syria.’
He added, ‘This (jihadist behavior) is not something new, we have seen men travel abroad from the Somali community before.
‘But for them to go somewhere other than Somalia, where they don’t have any ethnic, cultural, or family connections. This is different.’
A recent report from the Congressional Research Service, ‘American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat,’ identified ‘jihad cool’ as a key factor in pushing young Americans to take up arms where once their sympathies might have remained inert and without expression.
On 25 May this year, 22-year-old Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha became the first American born jihadist to die in the Syrian conflict.
He blew himself up when he drove a vehicle packed with explosives into a restaurant full of Syrian government groups.
The Florida raised Abu-Salha disappeared from his Florida home to join the Al Qaeda affiliated, Al Nusra Front, thought he did not speak a word of Arabic leading his parents to believe that their son, whose jihadist career began in 2012, could not have been radicalised by listening to ‘sermons of hate.’
But according to Organized Crime and Terrorism specialist, Jerome P Bjelopera, the methods used by militant recruiters to attract young men such as Abu-Salha can be far more insidious and subtle than open hate-filled rantings, heavy with religious rhetoric.
IIn 2007, Cabdulaahi Ahemed Faarax, a charismatic recruiter for Al-Shabaab, enticed young Somali men in Minnesota with a jihadi cool message replete with war stories.
‘According to federal court documents, he emphasized jihad but also stressed the sense of brotherhood he had experienced while fighting.
He detailed his own experiences in guerrilla combat and reassured his listeners that it was fun.’
Mr Bjelopera added that ‘jihad cool’ may have played a role in pushing five young Northern Virginia Muslim men who were arrested in Pakistan in 2009 for allegedly trying to join jihadist organisations.
Worrying, Mr Bjelopera concluded, ‘The interactivity of chat rooms, blogs, social networking sites, message boards, video hosting sites and email blurs the lines that previous generations of terrorists and sympathizers encountered with pamphlets, newspapers and newsletters.
‘This possibly encourages people who interact in such forums to more easily see themselves as part of broader jihadist movements and not just casual readers or online spectators. They may eventually engage in more substantive activity–actual propagandizing, financial support, or joining a terrorist network.’
They may, in short, be drawn by the lure of ‘Jihad Cool.’