Man Called ISIS Devotee, Son of Boston Police Officer, Is Arrested

The son of a Boston police captain, described as mentally ill and devoted to the Islamic State, plotted a series of deadly attacks with guns and homemade bombs, including a pressure-cooker explosive modeled on the bombs used at the 2013 Boston Marathon, law enforcement officials said.

More than just a Muslim punk band

Since setting up their band, The Kominas have come under fire from all sides: some punks say they aren’t real punks, while conservatives are critical of their politics. But who decides what punk is anyway? Isn’t the very essence of punk to push boundaries and upset the status quo? According to Richard Marcus, despite feeling ostracised by the white indie/punk scene and being the focus of media articles for reasons completely outside their control, the Kominas just keep on speaking their minds and making great music

Like any other creed, punk rock is widely open to personal interpretation. British punk of the 1970s was wildly different from American punk of the same period; New York punk was different from California punk, while Toronto’s punk scene was a sort of mash-up of all three. After nearly 40 years of listening to punk, the only generalisation I’m willing to make on the subject is that it’s more of an attitude than a style of music. Punk is a willingness to speak your mind and live with the consequences; it’s about taking chances and not accepting the status quo.

So using a catch-all phrase like “punk Islam” or Taqwacore (a name derived from the book of the same name by American author Michael Muhammad Knight) won’t give you an idea of a band’s nature, save that the members might share the same religious background. While using this term also seems to be fairly insulting (after all, how many “Christian punk” or “white punk” bands do you know of?), that hasn’t stopped the labelling from happening.

This is part of an overall syndrome that the band The Kominas was railing against in a recent post on their Facebook page: “There’s a lot of publicity that comes with Muslims performing normalcy for the West. ‘Oh wow, look at these Muslims who skateboard and are totally average,’ ‘hey, look at these Muslims who listen to & make music,’ ‘wow, this Muslim is just a normal shithead (just like me!)’. You can call it whatever you want (we would say tatti, but it’s your choice), we just wanted to say fuck that. We are more than a label. Fuck your binaries. Fuck all of them, fuck American:Muslim, Male:Female, white:other…” (Kominas Facebook page, 13 June 2015)

The Kominas have been associated with Taqwacore through both their association with Knight and with a documentary movie they were featured in, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. The movie was split between documenting “Islamic” punk bands touring together with Knight on an old school bus around America and a trip by Knight to Pakistan where he visited various Sufi shrines, the madrassa he had attended and the Kominas, who were in the midst of a two year sojourn in the country.

Breaking the mould

This was when I first ran into the band and over the years, I’ve stumbled across them on the Internet and been impressed by their music and what they have to say about it: why they perform and what punk means to them. Founding members Basim Usmani (bass) and Shahjehan Khan (guitar) started the band in 2005 when they met up at university in Boston. Karna Ray soon joined as drummer, and over the years, the rest of the band’s membership has shifted and evolved to where the original trio is now, augmented by Hassin Ali Malik.

While they have only released a couple of full-length CDs (Kominas and Wild Nights In Guantanamo Bay), a couple of singles (“BariyaN Ashiq Mizaj AkhaN TeriaN” and “Sharia Law in the U.S.A.”) and a six-song CD (Escape To Blackout Beach), they have garnered a great deal of attention. Some of it has obviously been from American media trying to get their heads around the fact young Muslims are in a popular music band, but mostly it is because of their appeal to people both in America and in South-East Asia. With songs written in English, Urdu and Punjabi, they can cross cultural boundaries few American-based groups even know exist.

However, that doesn’t mean they are universally popular. In fact, they come under fire from all ends of the political, musical and religious spectrum. In an interview given to Vanyaland, a Boston-based music magazine, Usmani touches on this when he mentions how they get flak from anti-religion Pakistani punks for being identified as Muslim and from Indonesian punks who say they aren’t real Muslim punks.

Of course, their politics – and maybe their existence – also upset conservatives of all types (political, religious and musical) at home. As evident from the quote above, they have strong opinions, which they don’t hesitate to express. However, that’s what a punk band is supposed to do – upset the status quo. Sure, there are punks out there who claim The Kominas aren’t punk enough because they play more than three chords and experiment with different styles and genres of music, but their approach to music and their lyrical content is pure punk. As definitive a figure as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) has said the whole idea of a punk orthodoxy – that you can only listen to or play certain types of music to be punk – is ridiculous.


Can a Muslim be a punk?

Unfortunately there’s also the issue of colour: brown-skinned people from South-East Asia aren’t supposed to thrash about on stage with guitars and drums and their hair spiked up in Mohawks. They’re supposed to play sitars and other ethnic instruments. In an interview on the MTV website given earlier this year, Malik responded to a question about how being Muslim has impacted on the way the music community has treated them by saying he felt they were ostracised by the white indie/punk scene – as much as that scene even exists anymore.

The hardest thing for The Kominas is being treated like any other band. In reply to the same question above, Usmani said the press only seems to be interested in them when Islamophobia is in the news or as a token for an article about assimilation. Yes, they began life as a supposed Muslim punk band, (drummer Ray is a secular Hindu born in the States to academic parents) but they’re more than that. Not only are they breaking down stereotypes by playing music people of colour aren’t “supposed” to play, they are playing really good music.

The irony of an article like this one, of course, is that it only perpetuates the problem of them being treated like any other band. However, hopefully the release of their new album, Stereotype, later this year will garner them the attention they deserve as a band, not just as the Islamic punks from Boston. True to their punk natures, it will be released on their own label – most likely as a digital download from their website. Wherever you are, and whoever you are, make sure to grab a copy.

Iowa Man Charged With Making Online Threats Against Boston Mosque

BOSTON — U.S. officials on Wednesday arrested an Iowa man and charged him with making online threats against a Boston mosque, including threats to shoot and kill Muslims.
Federal court papers unsealed on Wednesday charged that Gerald Wayne Ledford, 57, of Clinton, Iowa, made threatening posts on the Facebook page of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, including the post “we will destroy you” and photos of a person carrying a long gun.

Portrait of Suspect in Boston Is Disputed

Rahimah Rahim, a nurse, had tears in her eyes as she clasped the hand of her eldest son, Ibrahim, formerly a local imam. Behind them stood Usaamah Rahim’s wife, her face shrouded in a black veil.
It was the family’s first public appearance since Mr. Rahim, 26, was killed Tuesday by an F.B.I. agent and a police officer after the authorities said he threatened them with a large knife. A lawyer for the family, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., said that they knew nothing of his alleged affinity for Islamic extremists, nor of the reported threat to behead police officers.
A Boston imam and the aunt of the 26-year-old Roslindale man killed by police and the FBI on Tuesday say he was not a terrorist and blamed his “murder” on the media, an investigation gone awry and the strained relationship between cops and black men.
 “Usaamah was tuned in a lot with online Islam,” said Yahya Abdullah Rivero, who attended mosque with Mr. Rahim in Miami. “He kept an ear to everything that was mentioned about Islam online. I know he used to listen to some extreme imams online.”
 Robert S. Sullivan Jr., the lawyer for Usaamah Rahim’s family, on Thursday in the CVS parking lot in Boston where Mr. Rahim was killed on Tuesday. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times
Robert S. Sullivan Jr., the lawyer for Usaamah Rahim’s family, on Thursday in the CVS parking lot in Boston where Mr. Rahim was killed on Tuesday. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times

On social media, terror suspects left few signs of extremism

BOSTON — Usaama Rahim liked an Islamic State page on Facebook but also spoke out against the kind of violence Islamic State extremists are fomenting across the Middle East.  Killing people is anti-Islamic, Rahim wrote, arguing a key tenet of the faith is “we do not fight evil with that which causes a greater evil.”
Ibrahim Rahim, second from right, brother of shooting victim Usaama Rahim, reacts with a relative during a news conference Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood in the area where Rahim was shot to death. Police said Usaama Rahim had lunged at members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force with a knife when they approached to question him. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)
Ibrahim Rahim, second from right, brother of shooting victim Usaama Rahim, reacts with a relative during a news conference Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood in the area where Rahim was shot to death. Police said Usaama Rahim had lunged at members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force with a knife when they approached to question him. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)
Terrorism experts caution that extremists often chat, plot and recruit not on open social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter but in darker corners of the Internet, such as chat rooms and on blogs not readily viewable or even searchable by the public.

Two men in Boston charged with planning to aid Islamic State

Two men who were part of an alleged plot to kill a police officer in Massachusetts have been charged with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State, federal prosecutors in Boston announced Friday.
Prosecutors said that David Wright, 25, of Everett, Mass., and Nicholas Rovinski, 24, of Warwick, R.I., along with Rahim, had also discussed beheading Pamela Geller, the organizer of a Muhammad cartoon drawing contest in Texas in early May.

This undated self-portrait shows Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, who was shot to death after he tried to attack FBI agents and Boston police officers on June 2. (via AP)
This undated self-portrait shows Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, who was shot to death after he tried to attack FBI agents and Boston police officers on June 2. (via AP)

Boston Muslims Struggle to Wrest Image of Islam From Terrorists

To be Muslim in America today means to be held responsible, or to fear you may be, for the brutal acts of others whose notion of what Allah demands is utterly antithetical to your own. For the diverse crowd that prays at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, where professors at nearby universities mix with freshly arrived immigrants from Somalia and Egypt, it means hearing the word “Islamic” first thing each morning in news reports on an infamous extremist group. It means a kind of implied collective responsibility, however illogical, for beheadings in Syria, executions in Iraq and bombs in Boston.
Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times
Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times
The Obama administration, worried about recruiting of young Americans by Islamic State extremists, chose Boston last fall as one of three cities for aCountering Violent Extremism pilot program. The idea is to brainstorm ways to combat recruitment by all militants, including antigovernment groups and white supremacists. But the plan has divided Muslims in Boston and the other two cities, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

Scottish private schoolgirl Aqsa Mahmood is latest UK youth to join ISIS

Just weeks before Scotland’s independence referendum, the country joins the rest of the UK with the growing crisis of disenfranchised, and subsequently radicalized, Muslim youth. After disappearing from her Glasgow home in November 2013, 20 year-old schoolgirl Aqsa Mahmood, now known as “Umm Layth,” resurfaced in Syria apparently married to an ISIS fighter and living with other British Nationals. During a press conference on Tuesday, Mahmood’s father Muzaffar said, “[Aqsa] may believe that the jihadists of Isis are her new family, but they are not, they are simply using her.” He called her change the result of “bedroom radicalization,” referring to the influence of internet forums, blogs, and even Facebook as the source of his daughter’s metamorphosis from schoolgirl at the private Craigholme School to ISIS bride. Friends describe her as an average, fun-loving girl who enjoyed clothes, make-up and gossip. This description of a fully Western adolescent is now a common refrain among Muslim families and communities left stunned by the radicalization and subsequent departure of their youth to join ISIS.

Until this last week, Mahmood frequently communicated with other Muslims and potential converts to ISIS’s cause through social media, especially through Twitter. Her tweets include references to life as an ISIS bride, but also references to recent terror attacks: “Follow the example of your Brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston etc. Have no fear as Allah swt is always with the Believers.” (@ummLayth), June 27th, 2014. Her chilling 140 character call to arms was deleted with her account around September 3rd when her name and story gained national attention.

Mahmood represents a growing number of young British nationals leaving their homes to join ISIS, with an estimated 500 British-born Muslims now active in Iraq and Syria. Concerns over UK Muslims joining ISIS escalated after the murderer of James Foley in August appeared to be British.

Suspects’ Friend Accused of Hindering Boston Bombing Inquiry

May 30, 2014

BOSTON — A citizen of Kyrgyzstan who federal prosecutors said bought dinner for the two brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombing on the night of the attack was charged Friday with obstructing the investigation into the bombing.

Investigators said the Kyrgyzstani man, Khairullozhon Matanov, a 23-year-old taxi driver who lives in Quincy, Mass., had social ties to the suspects in the bombing, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, according to court documents, but lied to investigators about aspects of that friendship and of his communication with the brothers in the days following the bombing.

Mr. Matanov was charged in Federal District Court with four total counts of destroying, altering and falsifying records, documents and tangible objects in a federal investigation, and making false statements in a federal terrorism investigation.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, was charged last summer in a sweeping federal indictment in connection with the bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed after being shot by the police and run over by his brother during a manhunt.

Mr. Matanov and Tamerlan Tsarnaev had become friends, the indictment said, discussing religion and even climbing a mountain in New Hampshire “in order to train like, and praise, the ‘mujahedeen,’ ” which is a term referring to those who struggle on behalf of Islam, and can also refer to specific Islamic militant groups.

The indictment may shed new light on the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers in the days after the bombings.

Investigators said that Mr. Matanov saw Tamerlan Tsarnaev at least twice after the bombings, and bought both brothers dinner at a restaurant on April 15, hours after the bombs went off, but lied to officials about how that dinner came about. He is not charged with participating in the bombings and is not accused of knowing about them ahead of time. Mr. Matanov told a friend the bombings might have been justified if they were in the name of Islam, according to the indictment.

Mr. Matanov will be held by federal marshals until a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday. If convicted on all four counts, he could face up to 44 years in prison.