Over the next year, [Yasir] Qadhi was thrust into the center of a crucial struggle ”” for the minds of his young students, the trust of his government and his own future as America was waking to a new threat. Since 2008, more than two dozen Muslim-Americans have joined or sought training with militant groups abroad. They are among the roughly 50 American citizens charged with terrorism-related offenses during that time. These suspects are a mixed lot. Some converted to Islam; others were raised in the faith. They come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and have migrated to different fronts in their global war, from Somalia to Pakistan. Their motivations differ, but the vast majority share two key attributes: a deep disdain for American foreign policy and an ideology rooted in Salafiya.
In the spectrum of the global Salafi movement, Qadhi, who is 36, speaks for the nonmilitant majority. Yet even as he has denounced Islamist violence ”” too late, some say ”” a handful of AlMaghrib’s former students have heeded the call. In addition to the underwear-bomb suspect, the 36,000 current and former students of Qadhi’s institute include Daniel Maldonado, a New Hampshire convert who was convicted in 2007 of training with an Al Qaeda-linked militia in Somalia; Tarek Mehanna, a 28-year-old pharmacist arrested for conspiring to attack Americans; and two young Virginia men held in Pakistan in 2009 for seeking to train with militants.
Qadhi said that none of those former students had approached him for counsel. But in recent years, countless others have come to him with questions about the legitimacy of waging jihad. “We’re finding ourselves on the front line,” Qadhi said. “We don’t want to be there.”
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