If the latest issue of Al Qaeda's online magazine Inspire reads like it was written and edited by a twentysomething American, that's because it was.
U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may rely on sermons to recruit jihadis, but his Yemen-based understudy, 24-year-old New York-raised Samir Khan, uses sarcasm and idiomatic English. As Khan himself has said, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I [am] Al Qaeda to the core."
Khan solidified his extremist credentials earlier this month when he published a "special edition" of the English-language "Inspire," which revealed details of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's failed cargo bomb plot and mocked the stepped-up security that has ensued in the West.
Khan's skills as a propagandist have grabbed the attention of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement, who say he is a rising star in Al Qaeda.
"He does appear to be increasingly involved with operational activities [of Al Qaeda]", a U.S. official told ABC News. One counterterrorism official told ABC News that U.S. intelligence analysts view Khan as an "aspiring" Awlaki, the radical Yemeni-American cleric at the top of the U.S. government's "kill list" because of his operational involvement in AQAP.
Of greatest concern, say government officials and others who have tracked his evolution from a U.S. blogger and jihadi wannabe to an online voice of jihad, is his ability to speak to Western audiences in a vernacular that connects with Americans.
In the first issue of Inspire, which Khan released in July 2010, he titled an article on assembling homemade explosives, "How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom."
"He's a model of what Americans can do in the propaganda sphere," said Oren Segal, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, who has followed Khan's online rhetoric since 2004.
"He's what's next. His message resonates and appeals to Western audiences."
Khan was born in Saudi Arabia and raised from the age of seven in Queens, New York. He was a normal city teenager who listened to hip hop and wore baggy clothing.
Even before his family relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2004, however, Khan had begun to take an interest in Islam. He ditched his baggy pants for jalabiyas, the long white robes traditionally favored by Saudis. He joined two Islamic groups, but neither espoused violence.
But with the move south, Khan took a turn towards radicalism. In 2004, after watching online videos of suicide bombers blowing themselves up at American military checkpoints in Iraq, Khan began to openly support Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and to express that support on-line.
In 2007, shortly after Osama bin Laden released a communiqué, the New York Times reported that Khan, who had launched a blog called "A Martyr, God Willing" in Arabic, praised the al Qaeda leader, and beseeching Americans to "take his message with great seriousness."
In one of his only interviews, Khan told the New York Times that his favorite online video showed a suicide bomber striking a US base in Iraq.
"It was something that brought great happiness to me," Khan said.
Khan spent years in his parents Charlotte basement blogging, posting al Qaeda messages, and becoming increasingly radicalized by the war in Iraq. His blog's popularity rose as his rhetoric became more extreme.