The American leader in ISIS

Graeme Wood writes: One of the first hits on Google for John Georgelas was an August 15, 2006, press release from the Department of Justice. “Supporter of Pro-Jihad Website Sentenced to 34 Months,” it crowed. At the time of his conviction, he lived in North Texas, near Plano, 20 minutes’ drive from the house where I grew up.

Plano is a short drive from downtown Dallas, toward the Oklahoma border, a flatland sprouting subdivisions watered by money from the region’s burgeoning tech sector. Shortly after his probation expired, John Georgelas had posted a résumé online listing as his address an elegant brick house with white Doric columns, a small portico, and a circular driveway. In August 2015, when I first drove up, I could hear the happiness of children. I saw a boy, who looked about 10, bouncing a basketball in the driveway and two others playing nearby; they were the same ages as the kids in the Facebook photos. As I approached the front door, I spied a yellow-ribbon decal (“We support our troops”) in the window, and behind it a foyer, tidy and richly decorated, and a piano festooned with family photos.

The man who answered the door was Timothy Georgelas, John’s father and the owner (with his wife, John’s mother, Martha) of the house. Both parents are Americans of Greek ancestry.

Tim is a West Point graduate and a physician. He has a full head of gray hair and soft features that betray no sign of the stress of having raised an Islamic State terrorist. He has, however, no illusions about the life his son has chosen. “He and John are enemies,” I was told by someone who knows them both — “until the Day of Judgment.”

Tim wore shorts and a T-shirt, and a crisp draft of air conditioning escaped as he said good morning. When I told him I had come to ask about John, he stepped outside and shut the door as if to seal off the house from his son’s name. He slumped in a white wicker chair by the front door, and with a reluctant gesture, he invited me to sit across from him.

He stared at the magnolia tree in the front yard and said nothing. I told him what I knew — that his son, John, was Yahya [Abu Hassan — his nom de guerre]. Tim sat, lips pursed, and with a shake of his head began to speak. “Every step of his life he’s made the wrong decisions, from high school onward,” Tim told me. “It is beyond me to understand why he threw what he had away.” Yahya’s two sisters have both earned advanced degrees, he added, as if to demonstrate that it wasn’t failed parenting that led his only son to drop out of school, wage holy war, and plot mass murder. [Continue reading…]

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