From US private school student to al-Qaida agent

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Moeed Abdul Salam, didn’t descend into radical Islam for lack of other options. He grew up in a well-off Texas household, attended a pricey boarding school and graduated from UT with a degree in history.

But the most unlikely thing about his recruitment was his family: two generations had spent years promoting interfaith harmony and combating Muslim stereotypes in their hometown and even on national television.

Salam rejected his relatives’ moderate faith and comfortable life, choosing to work for al-Qaida. His odyssey ended late last year in an explosion in Pakistan. The 37-year-old father of four was dead after paramilitary troops stormed his apartment.

Officers said Salam committed suicide with a grenade. An Islamic media group said the troops killed him.

Salam’s Nov. 19 death went largely unnoticed in the U.S. and Pakistan. But the circumstances threatened to overshadow the work of an American family devoted to religious understanding. And his mysterious evolution presented a reminder of the attraction Pakistan holds for Islamic militants, especially educated Westerners whose Internet and language skills make them useful converts for jihad.

“There are things that we don’t want to happen but we have to accept, things that we don’t want to know but we have to learn and a loved one we can’t live without but have to let go,” Salam’s mother, Hasna Shaheen Salam, wrote last month on her Facebook page.

The violence didn’t stop after Salam died. Weeks after his death, fellow militants killed three soldiers to avenge the raid.

It is not clear to what extent Salam’s family knew of his radicalism, but on his Facebook page the month before he died, he posted an image of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American al-Qaida leader who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, beside a burning American flag. He had also recently linked to a document praising al-Awlaki’s martyrdom and to a message urging Muslims to rejoice “in this time when you see the mujahideen all over the world victorious.”

After his death, the Global Islamic Media Forum, a propaganda group for al-Qaida and its allies, hailed Salam as a martyr, explaining that he had overseen a unit that produced propaganda in Urdu and other South Asian languages.

A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said Salam’s role had expanded over the years beyond propaganda to being an operative. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.