Warren Christopher Clark (left) and Zaid Abed al-Hamid (right) in SDF Custody.
In January 2019, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured a group of men who they state were seeking to launch attacks against civilians fleeing the small pockets of territory still under Islamic State control. The group consisted of men from around the globe, including Pakistan, Ireland, and the United States. Warren Christopher Clark and Zaid Abed al-Hamid, two of the men captured by SDF forces, were named and identified as American citizens by their captors on social media based on forms of identification on their persons. Clark, who goes by the kunya of Abu Mohammad al-Ameriki, has since been positively identified as an American from Texas. Al-Hamid, who now goes by Abu Zaid al-Ameriki, has a much less clear background.
Clark’s background has been explored and significant insight has been gained from Clark himself in videotaped interviews he participated in while in SDF custody. Clark is a former substitute teacher from the Houston metropolitan area. It is believed that Clark is 34 years of age. It has been confirmed that he graduated from University of Houston, where he majored in political science and minored in global business. After several years of being a substitute teacher, Clark began to watch videos of the Islamic State online. Curious, Clark was able to make contact with an Islamic State representative, sending them a resume and cover letter explaining his desire to teach English to children in the caliphate. Clark states that he is a convert to Islam, though it is unclear when he converted. After traveling to Syria via Turkey, Clark states that he never picked up arms for the caliphate. In interviews after he was captured, Clark stated that he did not regret joining the group, and even justified beheadings conducted by the group, comparing them to executions in the United States criminal justice system.
While questions remain about al-Hamid and his background, it is known that he is originally from Trinidad, where he was detained in 2011 for plotting to kill their prime minister. Beyond this, al-Hamid was featured in numerous Islamic State propaganda videos where he discusses converting to Islam and the struggles he faced practicing his religion there. Rumors have circulated that al-Hamid is a dual-US citizen. This has not been confirmed, but his use of al-Ameriki in his kunya suggests some background in the United States. When al-Hamid made his journey to the caliphate, he brought along his wife and multiple children. It is unclear if they are still alive.
Clark, who has been transferred to US custody and brought back to Texas, has since been indicted and charged with providing material support to the Islamic State. The indictment covers a period from 2011, when he first drew the attention of federal law enforcement officials for online activities pertaining to jihadists social media entities.
Early investigation into both Clark and al-Hamid has not resulted in substantial findings in terms of potential solutions for further countering violent extremist ideology. Both Clark and al-Hamid were converts to Islam. In both of their lives, it appears that there was or may have been a feeling of marginalization within society. Clark, despite having a formal education, could not find a full-time position teaching. Al-Hamid, in Islamic State propaganda videos, stated that he struggled practicing his faith in Trinidad and felt like an outsider. Both men appeared to have been at least partially influenced by online extremist sites.
The lessons learned thus far in both Clark and al-Hamid’s cases is limited. However, perceived or real marginalization appears to be an underlying factor in both cases respectfully. Time will dictate policy recommendations to prevent radicalization, but one cannot ignore the continuous appearance of marginalization in case studies of those who have become radicalized towards extremist ideologies.