George Washington University has hired Jesse Morton, a reformed Islamic extremist, to work as a fellow in its Program on Extremism, The New York Times reported. He’s the first former jihadist to assume a public role in the US.
Morton, who the Times described as one of the “most prolific recruiters for Al Qaeda,” was previously known as Younus Abdullah Muhammad and helped form an extremist group called Revolution Muslim. Several of his recruits are now fighting for ISIS.
Morton will have a role at George Washington’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, a nonpartisan think tank, completing writing and research. Before hiring Morton, the university worked with FBI officials and the lawyers who prosecuted him during a yearlong vetting process.
The University, too, believes that his background provides the opportunity for important change.
“We haven’t figured out how to reach that individual who’s going down the path of radicalization,” Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism, told CNN. “Jesse has been in that world and got out of that world.”
Morton now feels deep regret for his actions as a recruiter and aims to make amends in any small way possible.
“As many people as may have travelled, or may have committed criminal acts, because of my words, I hope that I can deter just as many,” he told The Times. “I may never be able to repair the damage that I have done, but I think I can at least try.”
Morton was born in Pennsylvania and turned to extremism after an abusive childhood. While spending time in jail on drug-related charges, he met an islamic extremist and started his indoctrination process, CNN reported.
He formed Revolution Muslim in 2008, which attracted individuals interested in extremism. Morton fled to Morocco in 2008, after another individual involved in Revolution Muslim was arrested.
Morton was eventually arrested in Morocco and extradited to the United States to serve 11 years in prison, CNN reported.
But prison, especially the library, opened his eyes to the mistakes he made and helped him to see the value in tolerance and democracy through thinkers like John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau, according to CNN. He de-radicalized and became an informant for the FBI which helped him cut down his time in prison. Morton was released in 2015, after serving less than three years in prison.
Still, Morton is working to overcome the remorse he feels as a result of his work with Revolution Muslim.
“I suffer from a tremendous amount of guilt,” he told CNN. “I have seen things that people have done and to know that I once sympathized and supported that view — it sickens me.”
Watch The Times’ video about Morton below. Read the full story here »
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