By no means the first attack by Muslims on KFC.
It must have seemed like a perfectly normal day for 18-year-old Boula Fawzy as he was wrapping up his shift in the KFC branch in the Egyptian town of Quesna. Fresh from high school, he had been forced to work like many young Egyptians in order to help his family. As Fawzy was finishing up in the restaurant in the early hours of Feb. 5, a motorcycle stopped on the street outside and opened fire at the facade. The gunshots were soon followed by Molotov cocktails hurled through the front window. Trapped on the second floor, Boula didn’t have a chance. He burned to death.
Since the start of the year, multinational corporations, foreign-owned banks, and cell-phone companies have become the latest targets in the ongoing battle between Islamists and the Egyptian regime. Credit for the KFC attacks and others — including a multiple coordinated bombing this week in downtown Cairo that killed one passerby — has been claimed by hitherto little-known groups that call themselves “the Popular Resistance Movement” and “Revolutionary Punishment.” Formed by disgruntled Islamist youth who are unwilling to tolerate the status quo but decline to join traditional jihadi organizations, these groups have endorsed low-level violence as a means to bring down the Egyptian regime. For months, similar young militants have targeted police vehicles and policemen with Molotov attacks, cheered on by Muslim Brothers and fellow travelers.
But why have these groups focused on attacking multinational corporations?
Why do Islamists think burning down a KFC would help topple the military regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi? Much of the answer lies with an unlikely new theoretician of Egypt’s burgeoning Islamist insurrection, a 43-year-old American (and convicted murderer) named Shahid King Bolsen. When the Popular Resistance Movement took credit for the bombings, it used slogans first popularized by Bolsen.
Bolsen’s influence stems from his innovative efforts to fuse early-21st-century anti-capitalist ideology with the tenets of ultra-conservative Salafi Islam. Islamist infatuation with radical left ideas is not new; neither is the tactic of targeting economic interests. (The jihadi insurgency of the ’90s targeted the Egyptian tourism sector.) But Bolsen’s message — widely disseminated on social media throughout the Arabic-speaking world — aims to go much further. He has succeeded in Islamifying a far-left discourse about the evils of global “neo-liberalism,” singling out nefarious multinational corporations, rather than governments, as the real enemies of Muslims. “Egypt is today being invaded and occupied by a neoliberal crusade,” he writes.
Born Shannon Morris in Boulder, Colorado in 1971, he was raised as a Catholic by his mother after their father abandoned the family in 1983 to pursue a screenwriting career in California. His family would later recall that, even as a young man, Shannon was deeply troubled by social injustice and the gap between America’s rich and poor. He spent long hours in the local library reading about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Finishing high school, he attended Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he studied political science and became involved in various social projects. The story of the political and religious journey of Malcolm X awakened Bolsen’s interest in Islam, and in early 1997 he converted, later attributing this to Islam’s generosity towards the poor.
A Pakistani from Bolsen’s local mosque suggested a new name: “Shahid” is the Arabic word for “martyr,” “King” stands for Martin Luther King, and “Bolsen” is his mother’s maiden name. Interestingly, he has now stopped using “King,” since his former idol’s emphasis on non-violence stands in obvious contradiction to his new persona. At the time he was working as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, a local newspaper no longer in print. It was there that he met his wife, Asya. Eight years his elder, Asya was a Palestinian from Gaza who had won a fellowship to the United States and was interning for the newspaper. The two quickly fell in love. They were married in a ceremony in Gaza in June 1997.
Bolsen now began to fuse his anti-capitalist views with his new religious faith. His writings from this period range from a 1999 article on how the IMF controls Pakistan to an April 2001 anti-Israeli rant. In 2001 he took his family to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to live among the city’s Muslim community. He found employment with the now defunct Islamic Association of North America, where he oversaw outreach efforts to non-Muslims and led Friday prayers in local prisons. He also ran IANARadio, an Islamic news and information website. In June 2001, Bolsen traveled to London, where he gave talks on Palestine.
By 2003, Bolsen was feeling frustrated with his life in America. He would later claim that he was being pursued by the FBI (though there is no evidence to support the claim). At the time he only indicated that he wanted to live and raise his children in a Muslim country. In March 2003, Bolsen took his wife and three children and moved to the United Arab Emirates. Life was good at first. He opened an internet café and rented a villa. Soon, however, his business failed, and the money began to run out.
In early 2006, Bolsen created a profile on a social networking site posing as his maid. The profile suggested that its owner was a Middle Eastern woman living in Dubai and looking for a sexual encounter with a Western man. Martin Herbert Steiner, a German engineer, had just moved to Dubai from Singapore. Feeling lonely, he contacted the profile owner. E-mails and phone messages were exchanged, and the two agreed to meet. Bolsen’s wife and children were visiting family in Gaza.
In his subsequent confessions to the police, Bolsen claimed that he merely wanted to shame Steiner out of his “sinful ways.” What exactly happened in the house remains unclear. Bolsen claimed that he didn’t intend to kill Steiner, and that he had used a cloth soaked in chloroform to subdue the other man only after he had tried to force himself on Bolsen’s housekeeper. The housekeeper later testified that, after killing Steiner, Bolsen had told her, “Don’t worry, but say ‘God is Great,’ for an infidel is dead.” In his current recounting of the episode, Bolsen says simply that Martin was a Jew and that “Allah killed him.”
The next day Bolsen used Steiner’s credit cards to buy $20,000 worth of electronics. Shortly thereafter he placed Steiner’s corpse in a suitcase and drove to Oman, hoping to escape using the dead man’s passport. Changing his mind on the way, he hid the body at the side of the road, covering it with dirt, then drove back to Sharjah. For the next 10 days nothing happened. But then video footage implicated Bolsen in the crime, and he was arrested. On June 25, he led police to the body. On Oct. 23, 2007, a local court sentenced him to death.
He attempted — unsuccessfully at first — to offer “blood money” (a form of compensation allowed under UAE law) to Steiner’s family to win his freedom. Reports on the trial in the local press included exaggerated stories of Bolsen posing as a gay man on social media, entering the UAE on a forged British passport, marrying a second wife (a British woman from Somalia), or attempting to use money from a sex business to finance Al Qaeda. In prison Bolsen became an imam and launched a Quran competition for other inmates on death row. His story was picked up by several Islamic forums, and sympathizers launched a website that pleaded for leniency in his case. (His wife and children have since moved back to Colorado, where they live today.)
Why was she allowed back in the U.S.?
Much more at the link above.
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