WASHINGTON — A former Islamic extremist who once denounced the United States has been hired by George Washington University.
School officials say Jesse Morton, 37, will not be teaching, but focusing on counterterrorism research at the university’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security.
“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 at the center, told CNN. “Jesse has been in that world and got out of that world.”
Morton, who used to be known as Younus Abdullah Muhammad, was a recruiter for al-Qaida.
He has publicly bashed the United States and served time in prison after making threats against the creators of the TV show “South Park” for making jokes about the Prophet Muhammad.
Since then, Morton has worked with the FBI on a number of cases, and Hughes told CNN he spoke with the FBI and other leaders in the homeland security community before hiring him.
“This is an opportunity for me to make amends to some degree,” Morton told CNN. “I realize that I was completely wrong in my perspectives. …
“I suffer from a tremendous amount of guilt,” he added.
Universities in Europe have hired reformed extremists to help with counterterrorism efforts, but this is believed to be a first in the United States, CNN reports.
Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism, says on the university’s website that Morton admitted to helping radicalize people, but never committed any violent acts himself, and that he served less than four years of an 11 1/2-year sentence.
Vidino added that Morton has a graduate degree from Columbia University “and has lengthy experience in social work and individual and family counseling.”
U.S. officials have said that the engagement of former extremists is a critical part of the battle against terrorism, Vidino said: “President Obama has emphasized a ‘need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists.’ A recent bill crafted by a bipartisan group in the House Committee on Homeland Security encourages the Department of Homeland Security to ‘utilize the testimonials of former extremists.’”
Last fall, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said in a discussion hosted by the Program on Extremism that “often former extremists can be the most persuasive voices.”
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