The Strange Case of Houssein Zorkot

Houssein Zorkot, a third-year medical student at Wayne State University in Michigan, was arrested on September 8 at Hemlock Park in Detroit. He was wearing camouflage makeup, black clothes, and carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. His website sports photographs of the Ayatollah Khomeini and a great deal of pro-Hizballah material. Most ominously, on the day he was arrested he uploaded onto his site an image that included a photo of a soldier holding a rifle, with the caption, “The Start of My Personal Jihad (in the US).” Underneath in Arabic was Qur’an 9:20: “Those who believe, and have left their homes and striven with their wealth and their lives in Allah’s way are of much greater worth in Allah’s sight. These are they who are triumphant.” The Arabic for “striven…in Allah’s way” is jahadoo fi sabil Allah, which in Islamic theology refers in particular to jihad warfare.

According to Michigan’s WLNS, police say that on his website Zorkot claims to be a member of Hizballah. If that claim is true, was his abortive personal jihad in Hemlock Park ordered by Hizballah leadership? If so, his attack would have been the first known strike by Hizballah on U. S. soil. Even though unsuccessful, Zorkot’s attack, if it was a Hizballah project, would signal an end to the terror group’s policy of not staging attacks in America because the reaction to such an attack would hinder the group’s freedom of action here. Last April, the FBI’s Thomas Fuentes explained that Hizballah has “not been enthusiastic about doing it on US soil because of the attention and reaction that would occur.” But if Zorkot went to Hemlock Park on Hizballah orders, those days are over — and Americans can brace themselves for more Hizballah operations here.

It may be, of course, that even if Zorkot really is a Hizballah member, he was not acting on orders from the organization, but was freelancing when he took his AK-47 to Hemlock Park. Police and FBI officials have not given any indication as to whether or not Zorkot was on their radar screen before the incident last week, or whether or not they knew him to be affiliated with Hizballah — if indeed he is. And a third possibility is that Zorkot is, contrary to his claim, not a Hizballah member at all.

These possibilities are no less ominous than the first, for they would place Zorkot among the growing list of Muslims with no known connections to any terrorist group who suddenly go on a murderous rampage. Law enforcement attention has been focused almost exclusively on known members of terror groups, with scant attention given to the ideology of Islamic supremacism and jihad that can inspire any lone individual to wage jihad on his own. Muslims who profess to reject jihad violence should have no problem combating, in cooperation with non-Muslim authorities, the ideology that fuels it. Yet FBI Director Robert Mueller recently revealed, according to journalist Bill Gertz, that “the FBI has no counterideology response other than its ‘outreach’ to Muslim-American communities so they ‘understand the FBI’ and address ‘the radicalization issue.’”

Much more can and should be done. Whether or not Houssein Zorkot proves to be among their ranks, it is highly likely that there will be more freelance jihadists. The American Muslim advocacy establishment, for all its vaunted post-9/11 anti-terror protestations, have not, even now six years after that day, instituted comprehensive and transparent programs in American mosques to teach against the jihad ideology. Such programs will not end the possibility of freelance jihadists, but at least it would be a beginning, and a most welcome show of good faith from some organizations whose commitment to anti-terror efforts has come under increasing suspicion.

The fact that this beginning has not been made by Muslim groups in the U.S., or called for by government and law enforcement, is yet another manifestation of the pitfalls of ignoring the ideological dimensions of Islamic jihad terrorism. As freelance incidents grow in number, American officials will find the luxury of ignoring the jihad ideology ever more costly.


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