Abdullah al-Faisal is a U.S.-designated Islamist propagandist who has recruited for ISIS and facilitated travel to ISIS-held territory.“Treasury Sanctions Jamaica-based ISIS Recruiter for Terror Support,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 5, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/sm0231.aspx?src=ilaw. After ISIS declared its caliphate in June 2014, Faisal called on Muslims around the world to support it and praised the concept of hijra, migration to the Islamic state.Abdullah Faisal, “The Importance of Hijrah,” Authentic Tauheed, July 9, 2014, http://www.authentictauheed.com/2014/07/notes-importance-of-hijra.html. In 2017, Jamaican police arrested Faisal after U.S. authorities indicted him for trying to recruit an undercover New York Police Department officer to the terror group. New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill told the Daily News that Faisal “has used his influence and direction to groom and inspire terrorists who have bombed trains, attempted to blow up airliners and attack Americans here and abroad.”Larry McShane, “Pro-ISIS Muslim cleric busted in native Jamaica for trying to recruit NYPD undercover cop,” Daily News, August 25, 2017, https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/pro-isis-muslim-cleric-busted-recruit-nypd-article-1.3442873; Adam Goldman and Scott Shane, “A Long-Pursued Preacher Is Finally Charged in New York,” New York Times, September 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/us/abdullah-faisal-al-qaeda.html. Faisal was extradited to the United States on August 13, 2020.Ellen Nakashima, “Suspected ISIS cleric accused of inspiring American terrorists to stand trial in New York,” Washington Post, August 14, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/abdullah-faisal-arraignment-islamic-state/2020/08/14/7eae9372-ddc6-11ea-809e-b8be57ba616e_story.html.
Born Trevor William Forrest in Jamaica, Faisal converted to Islam and changed his name while living abroad as a teenager in Saudi Arabia.“Profile: Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal,” BBC News, May 25, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6692243.stm. Faisal moved to the United Kingdom where he built his reputation as an Islamist cleric in the 1990s. British authorities first took note of Faisal in 2001 after discovering recordings of his lectures in the car of convicted rapist Richard Chinyoka. The lectures called for the murder of Jews, Hindus, and other so-called nonbelievers.Nicola Harley, “Radical July 7 preacher arrested in undercover sting trying to recruit jihadis,” Telegraph (London), August 26, 2017, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/25/radical-july-7-preacher-arrested-undercover-sting-trying-recruit/. Faisal has since been linked to such notorious propagandists and violent extremists as pro-ISIS propagandist Anjem Choudary, 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay, and “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In 2003, British prosecutors accused Faisal of encouraging Britons to become foreign fighters in Afghanistan. He was convicted of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred.“Muslim cleric guilty of soliciting murder,” Guardian (London), February 24, 2003, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/feb/24/race.world. While in prison, Faisal claimed he radicalized hundreds of other inmates.Abdullah Faisal, “My Life in Prison,” Authentic Tauheed, June 24, 2011, http://www.authentictauheed.com/2011/06/96-my-life-in-prison.html. U.K. authorities subsequently deported Faisal to Jamaica in 2007.“Race hate cleric Faisal deported,” BBC News, May 25, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6691701.stm.
Faisal’s lectures, websites, and videos have incited “untold numbers of people around the world to take up the cause of jihad,” according to the U.S. government.“Radical Cleric Shaikh Faisal Indicted For Recruiting Supporters and Facilitating Efforts To Join Islamic State,” New York County District Attorney’s Office, August 25, 2017, http://manhattanda.org/press-release/radical-cleric-shaikh-faisal-indicted-recruiting-supporters-and-facilitating-efforts-j. Failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad reportedly praised Faisal and al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki as “the only two clerics out there who have got it right.”Dina Temple-Raston, “Jamaican Imam Said To Inspire Times Square Suspect,” NPR, May 19, 2010, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126962091. Faisal gained a new global platform in 2007 when U.S. extremists Jesse Curtis Morton (a.k.a. Younus Abdullah Muhammad) and Joseph Cohen (a.k.a. Yousef al-Khattab) co-founded the group Revolution Muslim under Faisal’s guidance. Authorities have since linked Faisal and Revolution Muslim to some of the world’s most notorious extremists. Trinidadian Imam Umar Abdullah credited Faisal’s propaganda for influencing the more than 100 foreign fighters from Trinidad and Tobago, where Faisal’s recordings first gained popularity in the 1990s. According to Abdullah, Faisal’s justifications of violent jihad appeal to converts and Muslims without firm religious backgrounds.Amandla Thomas-Johnson, “Caribbean to ‘Caliphate’: On the trail of the Trinidadians fighting for the Islamic State,” Middle East Eye, last updated March 1, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/essays/caribbean-caliphate-trail-trinidadians-fighting-808370626.
CEP has documented a total of 52 extremists who have been linked to Abdullah al-Faisal. Of these, 26 are violent extremists, 12 are successful or attempted foreign fighters, and 18 are propagandists. (Some extremists are counted in multiple categories.)
CEP has counted 25 U.S. extremists with ties to Faisal. His lectures, website, and videos have influenced Ohio State attacker Abdul Razak Ali Artan and Garland, Texas, attackers Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson, among others.
Faisal was convicted in the United Kingdom in 2003 for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. He was deported in 2007. CEP has identified 20 U.K. extremists with ties to Faisal, including 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay, London Bridge terrorist Khuram Shazad Butt, and London attacker Sudesh Amman.
After a three-year legal fight, Faisal was extradited to the United States from Jamaica on August 13, 2020, on charges of recruiting and providing support to those seeking to commit acts of violence and terrorism in connection with ISIS.