The Boston Nerd Who Edited ISIS Magazine Is Dead
Ahmad Abousamra went to Pakistan in 2006 from the U.S. and over the next 11 years rose to become one of the top English-language propagandists. Now the same rag he oversaw announced he’s been killed.
A Boston-raised computer scientist who rose to edit ISIS’s English-language propaganda magazines is dead. Ahmad Abousamra, a dual U.S. and Syrian citizen, was killed in Syria earlier this year, according to an ISIS eulogy in the magazine he helped create this week.
Abousamra was featured in Rumiyah magazine’s common “Among the Believers are Men” feature, which valorizes men who have died for ISIS’s cause. The biographical feature filled in some of the gaps about our knowledge of what happened to Abousamra between his departure from the U.S. and his death in an air strike in January 2017.
“Fearing that he would be one who speaks hypocritically, he pursued the course to which he called others, so his end was as he wished: to be killed for the cause of Allah on the frontlines,” the terrorist group wrote of the man they called Abu Sulayman ash-Shami in the eighth issue of Rumiyah.
Abousamra’s death marks the latest in a series of high-profile losses for the media-savvy terror group’s production wing. Abousamra’s mentor and ISIS propaganda chief, Abu Muhammad al Furqan, was killed in September 2016. And the terrorist group’s spokesman, planner, and most public face, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed in August.
Capturing Abousamra remained a priority for the United States. The FBI had a $50,000 reward for information leading to Abousamra's whereabouts. His most-wanted page said he travelled to Pakistan and Yemen, "where he allegedly attempted to obtain military training for the purpose of killing American soldiers overseas." He left the U.S. in 2006 and was indicted alongside Tarek Mehanna in Boston in 2009.
Mehanna was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2012, though supporters maintain his actions fell under the category of free speech. But Abousamra, his indicted co-conspirator, was long on the lam.
In the complaint, Abousamra was charged with going to military-style terrorist training camps in Pakistan in April 2002. In the complaint, Abousamra was charged with going to military-style terrorist training camps in Pakistan in April 2002. The two men and a third co-conspirator were accused of watching jihadi videos as inspiration, and talking about their hope of the "glory of dying on the battlefield for Allah." The men and a third co-conspirator were accused of watching jihadi videos as inspiration, and talking about their hope of the "glory of dying on the battlefield for Allah."
They also went to Yemen for training, according to the complaint, and Abousamra eventually slipped into Iraq to fight. Both men were accused of giving false statements to the FBI when questioned. And Abousamra quickly left the country, after getting a degree in computer science in 2006.
Abousamra’s obituary in Rumiyah confirmed the men’s travels and claimed he came close to carrying out an attack on America.
“However, Allah decreed otherwise, and He does what He wills,” the magazine said. “Their plot was discovered just days before the operation’s appointed time.”
Instead the hagiography says that Abousamra went to Syria, and connected with fragments of what would become ISIS fighting under the banner of the Nusra Front. He supposedly asked them to send him on a martyrdom operation—a calling of the highest honor, ISIS tells recruits—when they wouldn’t transfer him to Iraq. But that was not his fate.
Instead the magazine says Abousamra went on to discover the treachery of the Nusra front and reaffirmed his oath of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He fought with the rank and file and was finally selected for a martyrdom operation—before being whisked from it at the last minute to join the media propaganda efforts.
In that role Abousamra was supposedly instrumental in the foreign languages wing of the media apparatus. He rose to become the head editor of ISIS’s first English-language propaganda magazine, Dabiq.
“He would write many articles for the magazine, review what his fellow editors wrote, and scrutinize any materials that were translated for publishing, spending a great deal of time and effort doing so,” the Rumiyah obituary wrote. He even began to draft legal articles under the pen name “Abu Maysarah ash-Shami.”
As early as September 2014, ABC News reported that Abousamra may have taken up an influential post in ISIS's propaganda wing, possibly aided by his computer science degree.
"ISIS understands very well that in order for an act of terrorism to be effective, it needs to actually terrorize people," said Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, told ABC at the time. "The act of communication that follows the act of violence is almost as important as the act of violence itself."
Like many far-flung jihadis, Abousamra was rumored to have brushed with death long before his actual demise. The Iraqi Interior Ministry said that he had been killed in June 2015, in a strike that killed 27 other terrorists.
But that doesn’t seem to have been the case. According to Rumiyyah, Abousamra finally got permission to go fight in recent months. He was killed in battle by an airstrike near Tabaqah, Syria.