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Institute Counterterrorism Expert Matthew Levitt Testifies in Boston Marathon Bombing Trial


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Apparent radicalization of the defendant is typical of global jihadist movement.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Testifying in the trial of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Institute Fromer-Wexler Fellow Matthew Levitt, stated that new information technology and the proliferation of jihadist propaganda have made the radicalization of susceptible Muslims, especially young men, faster and easier than ever.

Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said that evidence indicates that Tsarnaev was exposed to a wide range of online propaganda, ranging from Islamist chants professing a global war between Muslims and the West to al-Qaeda’s slickly-produced Inspire magazine.

Using a series of side-by-side readings, Levitt highlighted the similarities between the note Tsarnaev wrote in the boat in which he was hiding at the time of his arrest and the teachings of other al-Qaeda propagandists. Levitt found parallels to the writings of several jihadi propagandists, including radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an influential American Muslim in al-Qaeda who was also in direct email correspondence with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and the would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.

Levitt concluded that the Tsarnaev case is part of a larger pattern of decentralized terror threats and homegrown violent extremists inspired by Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups. He emphasized the importance of combating the ideological component of radical Islamism.

“The impact of the Boston Marathon bombing cannot be overstated,” said Levitt. “Beyond the obvious pain and suffering caused to the victims of the bombing and their families, the bombing has been claimed by the global jihadi community and will now be used to inspire new prospective homegrown violent extremists to follow suit and do the same.”

Levitt is a veteran U.S. counterterrorism official who is frequently called upon to testify in Congress and in terrorism-related trials in the U.S. and abroad. He was an expert witness in the landmark 2014 U.S. federal trial that found the Jordan-based Arab Bank liable for supporting specific terrorist acts in Israel during the second Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s, the first such verdict against a bank. Among his other appearances was the 2008 case of The Holy Land Foundation which found that former officers and employees provided material support to Hamas and related offenses.

Levitt served in the Department of the Treasury, the State Department, and the FBI. He is the author of Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad (Yale University Press, 2006), Negotiating Under Fire: Preserving Peace Talks in the Face of Terror Attacks (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God (Georgetown University Press, 2013), and the just-released monograph From the Boston Marathon to the Islamic State: Countering Violent Extremism, among other publications.

Levitt edited the recently published anthology, From the Boston Marathon to the Islamic State: Countering Violent Extremism, a compendium of addresses on countering violent extremism featuring top law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, and community leaders from the Institute's 2014 Stein Counterterrorism Lecture Series.

He holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Yeshiva University, as well as a master's degree in law and diplomacy and a doctorate from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

About the Institute: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy is an independent, nonpartisan research institution that advances a balanced and realistic understanding of U.S. interests in the broader Middle East. Drawing on the expertise of its fellows, the Institute promotes informed debate and scholarly research on U.S. policy in the region.

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