The case of Roshanara Choudhry, a British Islamist who was radicalized largely online, demonstrates the "importation of the lone jihadi" concept into British jihadist circles, according to the latest issue of the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor. This lone jihadi idea, espoused by Yemeni-American al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, played a central role in Choudhry's trial and highlights the difficulty that British officials have in halting his growing online influence.
Choudhry had been a model student in King's College, where she was headed for honors at her university despite humble beginnings as one of five children of a Bangladeshi immigrant tailor. However, around her third and fourth years, Choudhry began to become disillusioned with her educational program and soon dropped out. She later told police that this was because of the university's presentation of an award to Israeli President Shimon Peres and for its department dedicated to countering radicalism, which she viewed as "against her religion."
Around November 2009, Choudhry discovered the speeches of Awlaki through "her own research." According to Choudhry's police interview, she quickly absorbed Awlaki's ideas that "as Muslims we're all brothers and sisters and we should all look out for each other and we shouldn't sit back and do nothing while others suffer." In addition, the interview states that she was particularly taken by al-Awlaki's speeches as "he explains things really comprehensively and in an interesting way so I thought I could learn a lot from him and I was also surprised at how little I knew about my religion so that motivated me to learn more."
Around April 2010, Choudhry became heavily influenced by the ideas of Abdullah Azzam, an early al-Qaida ideologue who preached the message of global jihad and also profoundly affected Awlaki. Around this time, she decided it was her duty to strike MP Stephen Timms and to become a martyr, which she learned from Awlaki's speeches was the "best way to die… and an Islamic teaching."
Choudhry's case was also at the center of a rising trend of lone jihadists. Bilal Zaheer Ahmand, from the English town of Wolverhampton, posted a threat to British MPs who had voted for the Iraq War and praised Choudhry on the same website that contributed to her radicalization, Revolution Muslim. Mohammed Gul, a 22-year-old London student who was allegedly uploading radical videos to a website and who was in contact with extremists abroad, have also made it to trial in the United Kingdom.
According to Peter Clarke, the former head of London's Counter Terrorism Command, Choudhry's actions highlighted the fact that "we are nowhere near getting the counter-narrative [to jihad] through."