DEARBORN, MICH. - A friend of one of the London Bridge terror suspects told a British media outlet that the suspect was influenced by Ahmad Musa Jebril, a Dearborn cleric popular with ISIS fighters.
The friend told the BBC Asian Network that the terror suspect — one of three accused of killing seven people Saturday night and injuring 48 others — often watched the videos of Jebril who has developed an international following in recent years.
According to a report which appeared in the Telegraph, the friend said of the terror suspect: "He used to listen to a lot of Musa (Jebril). I have heard some of this stuff and it's very radical. I am surprised this stuff is still on YouTube and is easily accessible. I phoned the anti-terror hotline. I spoke to the gentleman. I told him about our conversation and why I think he was radicalised.”
The suspect, whose name wasn't mentioned in the BBC report, was killed by police after the terror attack.
After the BBC report, British media outlets wrote about the link to Jebril. The headline on a report in the Sun on Monday read: "CHEERLEADER FOR EVIL — YouTube hate preacher Ahmad Musa (Jebril) was idolised by London Bridge attack ringleader and spouts vile anti-Western propaganda."
The Telegraph described Jebril as "the infamous American hate preacher."
Jebril did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
'Having a lasting influence'
Jebril's social media accounts have not posted anything new since the summer of 2014, but experts say his influence is still strong since the material remains online. Supporters have taken Jebril's quotes from videos and remixed them into memes or shorter video clips with dramatic sound and visual effects.
After the London terror attacks, British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the issue of online radicalization.
"Jebril lectures are widely shared by English-language ISIS supporters online," said Seamus Hughes, an expert on terrorism who is deputy director of the program on extremism at George Washington University. "The prominence is second only to (the late Yemeni-American cleric) Anwar Awlaki for that scene. He clearly is having a lasting impact as an influencer of ISIS sympathizers."
A 2014 report said the Jebril, 45, was the most popular religious leader for ISIS fighters from the West.
While the cleric has never been charged with a terrorism crime, he was charged and later convicted of 42 counts of fraud of almost $400,000, which included bank fraud, mail fraud, failure to pay income tax and money laundering.
After serving a 6½ year sentence, Jebril was released in 2012, He then started using the Internet to attract a huge audience online with fiery sermons, the Free Press reported in 2014.
His probation, whose terms had included government monitoring of his computer use, ended in March 2015. At the time, he owed about $250,000 in restitution for his fraud charges.
A message of violence
Born in metro Detroit to Palestinian immigrants, Jebril grew up in Michigan. He studied in Saudi Arabia, but has spent most of his life in metro Detroit. His father, charged along with his son in the fraud cases, is also a cleric.
Court records unsealed in Maryland this year in a separate terrorism case said that Jebril is a Salafi , which describes followers of a school of thought in Islam popular in Saudi Arabia.
"Ahmad Musa Jibril is an ISIL supporter and Salafi Shaykh from Michigan," wrote an FBI Special Agent in a case involving a Maryland man accused of ISIS links.
In the Detroit fraud case, prosecutors wrote in a memo: "Ahmad Jebril encouraged his students to spread Islam by the sword, to wage a holy war, to hate and kill non-Muslims."
Prosecutors also have linked Jebril to terrorism in two more recent local cases.
One of them involves the case of Khalil Abu-Rayyan, a Dearborn Heights man who was sentenced in April, accused of supporting ISIS and talking about attacking a Detroit church. In a court filing, prosecutors showed a text message where Abu-Rayyan said he listens to Jebril.
In another case, prosecutors have said that Sebastian Gregerson of Detroit, accused of ISIS ties, also listened to Jebril. Gregerson pleaded guilty in March to explosives charges and is to be sentenced later this month.
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo.
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