Online in Istanbul, American Convert to Islam Helps Fuel Attacks in Egypt

By Kirkpatrick, David D | International New York Times, March 2, 2015 | Go to article overview

Online in Istanbul, American Convert to Islam Helps Fuel Attacks in Egypt


Kirkpatrick, David D, International New York Times


Shahid King Bolsen, an American convert to Islam, has been fomenting a new wave of violence against business targets.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Writing from an online perch in Istanbul, he calls on Egyptians to start off-hour attacks against KFC restaurants, banks, mobile phone shops and other corporate outposts. He urges assaults on the military's commercial interests instead of its security checkpoints.

Nonviolent protests are worse than "futile," he says, just an opportunity "to get arrested or shot in an exercise in crowd control training for the police."

This Internet provocateur is an American convert to Islam, Shahid King Bolsen, a college dropout who speaks only rudimentary Arabic and has barely set foot in Egypt. He has nevertheless emerged as the unlikely apostle for a distinctive blend of anti-globalization sloganeering and Islamist politics that is fueling a new wave of violence against businesses across Egypt.

Although the attacks have mainly hit empty banks, stores and restaurants, they have killed two Cairenes so far. On Thursday alone, six bombs set off around greater Cairo injured at least nine others, including four police officers.

A 43-year-old native of Boulder, Colo., Mr. Bolsen is the latest in a series of Westerners, including the American citizens Anwar al- Awlaki and Samir Khan of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to turn up as propagandists for various forms of Islamist violence.

But what sets him apart, and helps explain the origins of his distinctive brand of anti-corporate Islamism, is his singular path, beginning with an adolescent zeal for social justice that he carried through his religious conversion. Along the way, he developed his ideas further in the solitude of a seven-year stint in prison for manslaughter in the United Arab Emirates, the result of a bizarre case involving allegations of sex for sale and an overdose of chloroform.

His popularity in Egypt despite his idiosyncratic profile is a measure of the growing frustration among many young Islamists at their apparent powerlessness after the military takeover that removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood more than a year and a half ago, said Mokhtar Awad, a researcher at the Center for American Progress, who with a colleague, Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute, is preparing a study of Mr. Bolsen.

"There is a desperation to express anger and hit back at the current regime that is captured by one of the slogans he has popularized -- 'Your business, our blood' -- and it is symptomatic of the level of desperation that this almost absurd figure is able to seize on that opportunity," Mr. Awad said.

Mr. Bolsen, in a telephone interview on Friday, said he had urged his followers to avoid harming civilians and never recommended the use of explosives.

"The idea is disruption without bloodshed," Mr. Bolsen said.

"I condemn the loss of life and the use of violence against people," he said. But, he added, if a few lives are lost to help prevent needless deaths at the hands of security forces, "sometimes it is a price to be paid."

Mr. Bolsen, who makes his living giving private English lessons, has reached his Egyptian audience entirely through Islamist websites, satellite television networks and social media. …

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