In 2006, a high priority for the FBI was tracking the owner of a blog called Inshallahshaheed who frequently posted commentary in support of Muslim extremist groups and violent jihad.
The FBI feared that both the shifting tone of the blog entries and the dozens of videos the blogger posted to YouTube depicting terrorist operations indicated that he was planning an attack against the US, or intended to join up with militants in Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the US military.
Five years later, that blogger, Samir Khan, was killed in a CIA drone strike in Yemen alongside radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who the Obama administration had secretly targeted for death, setting off a fierce debate over executive power. Both men were affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — and both men were US citizens.
VICE News has exclusively obtained many of Khan’s FBI’s files in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed not long after his death. It is extremely rare for files on accused terrorists to be released by the government; historically, they have remained classified. In a letter accompanying the documents, the FBI said more than 250 pages of records were withheld on national security grounds and because they would reveal the identity of confidential sources, law enforcement investigative techniques and pertain to ongoing investigations into terrorism. The FBI said other documents were referred to separate government agencies (believed to be the CIA and Department of Defense) for review. The bureau said in its letter it expects to release another batch of documents on Khan at a later time.
The documents indicate that the FBI began its probe of Khan based entirely on what the bureau referred to as “jihadist” blog posts to Inshallahshaheed, an Arabic phrase that means “Martyr, God willing.” The files do not reveal any active plot by Khan against the US or its interests overseas.
The hundreds of pages of redacted FBI documents from 2006 through 2010 reveal the genesis of the FBI’s probe into Khan, provide a window into how terrorists use the internet to attract recruits, and reveal how the FBI may currently be tracking American citizens sympathetic to the Islamic State. In fact, Khan’s FBI files reference the Islamic State — specifically his use of the Islamic State of Iraq flag as an avatar — indicating that the bureau had been collecting intelligence on the group for years.
FBI Document Release #1 (September 2014)
FBI Document Release #2 (November 2014)