The Islamic State’s propaganda wing is perhaps the most effective in the history of modern terrorism, but the American behind one it’s most notorious magazines never intended to become a propagandist.
Ahmad Abousamra yearned for nothing more than to die as a suicide bomber for the caliphate, however, his path to jihad took him from the halls of the University of Massachusetts in Boston to becoming the “chief editor” of ISIS’s Dabiq magazine.
Abousamra, also known as Abu Sulayman ash-Shami or Shaykh Ahmad “Abdul-Badi ” Abu Samrah to ISIS, was born to Syrian parents in France on Sept. 19, 1981. He eventually immigrated to the U.S. and grew up in Stoughton, Mass. He became a citizen and attended the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where he studied computer science.
A life in the U.S. was apparently not enough for Abousamra, who eventually decided “to go forth in the cause of Allah with some of his friends,” according to a profile in ISIS’s Rumiyah (Rome) magazine.
“So they left as muhajirin to Allah, not coordinating their journey with anyone,” said the profile. “They roamed between Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq, hoping to meet someone who would bring them to the mujahidin. But once they became weary of finding the way, and as they feared inciting the suspicions of intelligence agencies, they returned to America, asking Allah to guide them towards their goal.”
Instead, Abousamra decided to engage in a suicide attack on U.S. soil. With the support of two friends, Abousamra drew up a plan, which apparently included stealing weapons from U.S. authorities.
The trio’s plot “was discovered just days before the operation’s appointed time,” according to Rumiyah. Abousamra was able to escape the U.S. before the FBI could gather enough information to issue an arrest warrant at U.S. borders and airports. His actions led to the FBI issuing a $50,000 bounty for information leading to his arrest.
Abousamra traveled to Syria, where he linked up with the Nusra Front, which at the time was still linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS. He was allegedly injured in battle fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and still sought to engage in a suicide bombing for the cause of the jihadists. He left Nusra after its leader decided to swear allegiance to al-Qaida, which he saw as a betrayal of ISIS.
Abousamra’s wishes to die in a suicide bombing almost came after leaving Nusra to join ISIS’s ranks. He was directed to use a suicide belt against civilians who were allegedly supporting Nusra in Aleppo. According to the profile, another bomber was given the task, while Abousamra was transferred to ISIS’s “Media Diwan,” or propaganda wing.
ISIS’s al-Hayat media center initially put Abousamra’s English skills to use on propaganda videos, before he was later made editor of the Dabiq magazine.
Dabiq is a small city in northwestern Syria that holds special significance to ISIS. The city will be the center of a grand, apocalyptic battle between the armies of the West and ISIS. The profile failed to mention that Dabiq was seized by Turkish and Syrian opposition forces in October.
Abousamra was particularly effective as Dabiq’s chief editor, according to Rumiyah. One of his most famous articles, titled the “Jews of Jihad,” railed against al-Qaida’s leaders, including its chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri. He accused them of undermining ISIS’s efforts, using anti-Semitic tropes and claiming they “faked” Islam out of their hatred of the religion.
Abousamra’s career as a terror propagandist was believed to have been cut short in June, 2015, when he was killed in an air strike by Iraqi forces. The profile, however, claimed otherwise. The ISIS propagandist apparently never lost his desire to die in battle, and requested to go to the front lines in Syria where he was reportedly killed in a U.S. air strike in January.