So. One of “very few” Americans in ISIS’s upper ranks happens to hail from…Our Friends The Albanians.

Because Albanians — even more than Muslims in general — “aren’t like that.”

It’s largely true, of course, including in the sense of their not being like the religious Middle Easterners. But it’s also just as irrelevant; what’s relevant is that American policy/security was and is backwards on Muslims and Slavs. But the “not like that” factor makes it all the more noteworthy that not until IS came along did Albanian names in jihad start coming to actual prominence. Finally, a jihadi movement violent enough for the Albanian palate — already whetted by Serbian blood — to seek name recognition. When even media expressed shock at the violence level of Arab-killer Lavdrim Muhaxheri, he shrugged that this was no different from “what we did to Serbs.” (The latter, of course, was *not* shocking, but par for the course.)

Recall that the political-media-military establishment got us on board the Balkans wars by saying that these Muslims aren’t like ‘those Middle Eastern ones,” so it’s OK to help them (especially so they don’t become like those). Eventually, we started being told that, actually, there’s nothing wrong with the religious Middle Eastern sorts to begin with and if we think there is, it’s our own xenophobia that’s the problem.

Boiling frog, Anyone? The Albanians and Bosnians were an early rung in our conditioning process. And so now here we are, like Pavlovian dogs, howling every time another Muslim commits another atrocity — in protest of possible insults that could result to Muslims in general. Dead infidels? Why, that’s just par for the course. And we’re still too dumb to see that we’re the Slavs. A slave mentality indeed.

But the clues are out there, if you know where to not look away.

A New American Leader Rises in ISIS (The Atlantic, Jan. 13, 2018)
A two-year investigation identifies one of the very few Americans in the Islamic State’s upper ranks — and sheds light on the dynamics of radicalization.
By Seamus Hughes, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, and Bennett Clifford

The clues are out there, if you know where to look. Scattered across far-flung corners of the internet, there is evidence that Zulfi Hoxha, the son of an Albanian-American pizza-shop owner from New Jersey, had sinister plans.

Albanian? Check!
Pizza owner? Check!

First there’s the defunct Twitter profile, which at one point engaged in a conversation with a State Department counter-propaganda account about the Islamic State. Then there’s the fact that he used the social-networking site Paltalk, a communications platform reportedly popular among Western jihadis. But none of it compares to the ISIS propaganda video that, according to multiple law-enforcement officials, shows Hoxha beheading captured Kurdish soldiers. If they are right about his identity, Hoxha is the first American Islamic State member known to be beheading individuals in such a video.

Ah, so the first American IS member known to behead is not a pious Middle Eastern type but an Albanian. (As “American” as the three “American” Bytyqi brothers who with our blessing left the country to do the same to Serbs, with the U.S. expressing grave indignation over their subsequent killing, and former ambassador William Walker participating in a KLA honor guard escorting their bodies back to America.)

…In May 2017, the Islamic State media office in Iraq’s Nineveh province released a 45-minute video entitled “We Will Surely Guide Them To Our Ways.”… [“Abu Hamza al-Amriki.”] exhorts the “muwahiddin [believers]” in America to carry out domestic attacks: “Are you incapable of stabbing a kaffir [non-Muslim] with a knife, throwing him off of a building, or running him over with a car? Liberate yourself from hellfire by killing a kaffir.”…Abu Hamza al-Amriki is Zulfi Hoxha.

This is so far the only instance in which the U.S. government has confirmed the name (and American citizenship) of an Islamic State member who appears in one of the group’s media products. While a number of Americans have appeared in terrorist propaganda videos over the years, law enforcement rarely comments on their identity. Moreover, the government does not often publicly release its assessments of American Islamic State members’ role or rank. Hoxha’s apparent status in the group places him in an elite category of the group’s American members who have risen to some level of leadership. Most American Islamic State supporters never made it to Syria.

In October 2015, a video was released by the Islamic State of a purported American brutally beheading a Kurdish peshmerga soldier. The 15-minute video, shot from multiple camera angles, features four individuals dressed in black and standing behind captured Kurdish soldiers. Its subject speaks with the same accent and inflection as Hoxha in the May 2017 release. Multiple law-enforcement officials told us that the individual who says he is “delivering a message to Obama” and then commits the first execution is Hoxha. If officially confirmed, it would be the first case of an American Islamic State member beheading someone in a propaganda video.

An account on the gaming website Steam bearing the username “Hohxa77” lists his favorite titles, including Splinter Cell, Mortal Kombat, and Left 4 Dead. Indeed, this shared interest in video games may have been one of the first things that brought Hoxha together with David Wright….During Wright’s trial, prosecutors argued that he used several video games, including Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and other titles to “virtually prepare” for jihad. His defense attorneys, however, painted Wright, who weighed over 400 pounds at the time of the conspiracy, as a “fat, failed loser” who used video games as a substitute for real-life violent activity, according to the trial transcript.

The court records show that prior to Hoxha’s departure, David Wright put him in touch with another American Islamic State supporter, his uncle Usaamah Rahim, and together they began helping Hoxha as he prepared to travel in the spring of 2015. The two men raised money for Hoxha’s plane ticket to Istanbul by selling Rahim’s laptop on Craigslist. Hoxha departed for Istanbul on April 6.

Wright, Rahim and a third member of the group, Nicholas Rovinski, eventually decided on a different path than that taken by Hoxha. They were in the early stages of a plot to kidnap and behead the anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller when, on June 2, 2015, Rahim was stopped by police outside of CVS in Roslindale, Massachusetts. They wanted to question him after wiretapping a conversation between Rahim and Wright that morning during which they discussed attack plans. Refusing to co-operate, Rahim pulled a hunting knife on the officers and was shot dead. Wright and Rovinski were arrested shortly afterward and charged with a range of offences; in 2016,Rovinski pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to the plot. He testified against Wright, who was convicted in 2017 and is now serving a 28-year sentence.

At the time of his death, Rahim was portrayed as just another incompetent “lone wolf” Islamic State supporter with no serious connections to any real-world group members. Even after investigators arrested Wright, who at the time was unemployed and essentially immobile due to his weight, and Rovinski, who had cerebral palsy, this “cell” of Islamic State supporters is still viewed largely as an isolated group of three friends acting on deluded fantasies. While Rahim, Wright, and Rovinski were undoubtedly amateurs, we now know that they formed part of a wider network that was in communication with Islamic State operatives in Syria and had facilitated the travel of Hoxha, who would go on to rise in the group’s ranks.

It is also becoming clear that a small but surprising number of American Islamic State members have been able to sufficiently impress the group’s leadership so as to be given more senior roles. It is still rare for Westerners to become anything more than foot soldiers or, in some cases, propagandists. They do not usually possess the battlefield experience or other skills required to attain senior positions.

But in Zulfi Hoxha’s case, a seemingly inexperienced American youth managed to climb the ranks, and appear as one of the Western faces of Islamic State in its propaganda. It is unclear how he achieved this, although he may have impressed his commanders with his apparently immediate willingness to take part in such acts of brutality as the beheading of an enemy soldier.