Ahmad Jibril, who was released from prison in 2012 after serving time for fraud, began his online sermons just as Al Qaeda extremists began flooding into the civil war in Syria.
“When your brothers in Syria speak, everyone today needs to shut their mouth and listen, because they’re proving themselves to be real men,” Jibril said in one sermon just several weeks after his release.
But the sermons were just the beginning: Jibril has also released a number of videos and online comments that have made him an inspirational symbol for militants on the battlefields of Syria, according to the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence.
Jibril could not be reached for immediate response.
A U.S. official told TheBlaze there is “growing concern within law enforcement that Western extremism — extremism from within — is the greatest threat we face as a nation to our security.”
The official, who is not allowed to speak publicly, said “our European partners are also on alert when it comes to these internal threats. Of course the Internet plays an enormous role in spreading the ideology and recruiting fighters.”
Over the past several years, the cleric has become the most popular online religious leader for Westerners who oppose the Syrian government and support the growing opposition in the country, according to the center, which has been working closely with five universities studying Western fighters and their role in Syria.
Most of Jibril’s followers surveyed online are associated with groups related to Al Qaeda, the organization’s report said.
Jibril, 43, “does not explicitly call to violent jihad, but supports individual foreign fighters and justifies the Syrian conflict in highly emotive terms. He is eloquent, charismatic, and – most importantly – fluent in English,” according to the report.
The research found “that Syria may be the first conflict in which a large number of Western fighters have been documenting their involvement in conflict in real-time, and where – in turn – social media represents an essential source of information and inspiration to them. In their minds, social media is no longer virtual: it has become an essential facet of what happens on the ground.”
Follow Sara A. Carter (@SaraCarterDC) on Twitter