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NC Muslims tried to change al-Qaida supporter

CHARLOTTE (AP) — A North Carolina-bred man killed Friday in a U.S. strike on an al-Qaida leader in Yemen described himself as a “traitor to America” as he promoted a Muslim extremist message to the English-speaking world.

Samir Khan was killed along with American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, described by President Barack Obama as a leader of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

A Saudi-born man of Pakistani heritage, Khan left his family in Charlotte for Yemen in 2009 after several years editing a web site praising Al-Qaida leaders.

“I was quite open about my beliefs online and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was al Qaeda to the core,” Khan wrote in the fall 2010 issue of Inspire magazine, an online publication.

“I am a traitor to America because my religion requires me to be one.”

Khan’s life in Yemen involved helping produce the irreverent, graphics-heavy Internet magazine aimed at recruiting young Muslims to the jihadi cause with articles such as, “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

Khan cut off ties with his family when he went to Yemen to join the Islamic version of a gang, even though such ideology runs counter to Islam, said Jibril Hough, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte.

“Gangs don’t operate by rules. People who support terrorist ideology when it comes to killing innocent people do not believe in rules. As Muslims, we believe in rules,” Hough said.

Hough said Khan’s family was in mourning Friday and did not want to talk about their son, who was 25.

“Even though we don’t believe in the path he was going or the way he was thinking, he was still a human being, still a human life, and he was still someone’s son,” Hough said.

Hough said he called Khan’s father in 2008 after Samir’s ideology became known and arranged a counseling session, “an intervention of sorts.” There were two meetings in Hough’s home over the course of a month involving Khan, his father and a handful of other respected members of the Muslim community, Hough said. Each lasted several hours.

“He was very respectful — kind of quiet. He didn’t give us a big argument. There was a time or two he tried to state his case. He was pretty much respectful of the circle we’d set up, and he listened,” Hough said.

The few words Khan tried to offer then involved defending his view supporting the killing of innocent people, Hough said.

Khan, who came to the U.S. with his family when he was 7, was influenced in his radical views while living in New York as a child and before his family moved to Charlotte when he was a teenager, Hough said.

“The Charlotte community had nothing to do with contributing to his thought process. We did have something to do with trying to stop it with going down that path, and that I feel good about,” Hough said. “We didn’t turn our head like sometimes we get accused of, not wanting to stop something. … As a Muslim, I opposed it, but as an American you have to support his right of freedom of speech. It’s a fine line in this country.”

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