PolitiFact: Al-Qaida urged followers to exploit U.S. gun laws

New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker was one of the U.S. senators who spent nearly 15 hours in an overnight filibuster designed to pressure Congress to vote on two gun amendments proposed in response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

One would block anyone on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying a firearm. The other would expand background checks to all gun show purchases and internet sales. Both were rejected in a largely party-line vote Monday.

Ahead of the vote, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Booker in a June 16 interview how the filibuster would “lead to an actual bill, something the president can sign?”

“Well, what I have been finding recently is how many Americans did not realize that you can be under investigation by the FBI, that you could have been put on the no-fly list because you were considered to be too dangerous to enter a plane, but you could still go out and buy a trunk load full of weapons,” he said.

“And so here we have this real war that we’re on — a war against terrorism. We’re basically telling our enemy, exploit this loophole. In fact, our enemy, al-Qaida operatives, have said, ‘Hey, we want you to use this loophole to attack and kill Americans.’ “

We’ve covered the fact that people on terrorist watch lists have been able to buy firearms. For this fact check, we decided to look into whether al-Qaida propaganda has actually been urging people to exploit that situation.

When we contacted Booker’s office, a spokesman responded immediately with several links, all pointing to a 2011 video made by Adam Gadahn, an American serving as a spokesman for al-Qaida.

“Muslims in the West have to remember they are perfectly placed to play an important and decisive part in the jihad against the Zionists and crusaders, and to do major damage to the enemies of Islam, waging war on their religion, sacred places, and things and brethren. This is a golden opportunity” to rush to do battle with everything at your disposal, he says.

“And in the West, you’ve got a lot at your disposal. Let’s take America as an example,” Gadahn said. “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

(Gadahn’s information was not entirely correct. As CNN noted, only specially licensed dealers can sell fully automatic weapons, and they require a background check.)

Gadahn, the first American charged with treason since World War II and an occupant of the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, was killed by the United States in a January 2015 counterterrorism operation.

Max Abrahms, an assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University, said he couldn’t recall “any other videos as explicit about the ease of using guns in the United States on Islamists’ behalf.”

“That said,” Abrahms said, “I would be surprised if there isn’t other propaganda seeking to exploit the permissiveness of gun access in the U.S.”

Our ruling

Booker said, “Al-Qaida operatives have said, ‘Hey, we want you to use this loophole (for buying guns despite being on a watch list) to attack and kill Americans.”

We’ve seen a 2011 video from one operative, an Al-Qaida spokesman born and raised in America who did indeed urge Muslims to use the gun show loophole to buy weapons to attack Americans. While an expert said its reasonable that other pieces of propaganda exist, we don’t know of any.

With that caveat, we rate the claim as Mostly True.

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