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Revolution Muslim leader changes tune

By Drew Griffin, CNN
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'Revolution Muslim' leader changes his tune
  • Younes al-Khattab started Revolution Muslim with another American-born convert
  • Al-Khattab once praised al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden
  • Today, he tells CNN's Drew Griffin he does not support killing civilians

New York (CNN) -- He might not be a household name, but Yousef al-Khattab and his Revolution Muslim extremist group have been pivotal in inspiring a wave of homegrown American jihadists over the past three years.

Born Joseph Cohen, this American Jew lived in Israel before converting to Islam. He espoused a radical version of the religion that he preached online and at public rallies.

In a CNN interview last year, he professed his undying love for Osama bin Laden, saying "I love him more than I love myself."

Today, al-Khattab seems to have changed his tune.

He admits that his now defunct Revolution Muslim website became a "bug light for Muslim misfits."

And he says he regrets that his message was taken by some as a justification to attack civilians.

"It was an idiotic thing, looking back on things now," al-Khattab said.

He says terrorists who attack civilians anywhere in the world are "disgusting."

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'Revolution Muslim' rally

With so many of his followers under arrest, it is unclear whether al-Khattab means what he is saying or is just running scared. Either way, law enforcement sources say the collapse of Revolution Muslim's website and apparent conversion of its founder is a win.

By CNN's count, in just the past 18 months, eight of the 27 reported cases of homegrown terrorism saw U.S. terror suspects frequenting, blogging on, or directly linked to Revolution Muslim and the Islamic Thinkers Society -- another extremist New York group that al-Khattab played a role in.

Those cases includes the Baltimore man arrested Wednesday for plotting to bomb a military recruiting station.

Maryland bomb suspect arrested

Despite the risk of eschewing his radical brethren, al-Khattab agreed to go on camera and state his new message.

"I regret anybody that would hurt an American civilian. That I regret," al-Khattab told CNN. "I think that's disgusting and I think that was never the message."

He says some of his previous statements, including his message condoning the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings, were taken out of context.

"My intention was not at all to inspire somebody ... to do an act like that," he said.

Al-Khattab created with Younes Abdullah Mohammed, who told CNN last year that "Americans will always be a target -- and a legitimate target -- until America changes its nature in the international arena."

The two apparently had a falling out, and parted ways. Mohammed has apparently left the United States for Morocco, where he is trying to start up a similar website, according to counter-terrorism sources.

Another blogger who was active on is now thought to be in Yemen, working with outlawed cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Though law enforcement officials are encouraged by the demise of the Revolution Muslim website, they are cautious about al-Khattab.

I regret anybody that would hurt an American civilian ... that was never the message.
--Yousef al-Khattab

He has been a rock star in the world of militant Islam. His extreme rhetoric, according to sources, attracted many young would-be jihadists.

Al-Khattab says he is taking a risk speaking on camera denouncing his past because, he says, he will now be an enemy of the radicals he once embraced.

But he says this is message to them: He was wrong, and so are they.

"If you think that this is the direction, to come to the United States and bomb and blow up civilians, you're terribly wrong and that was never ever the message that I wanted to give, it was never my intention."

He says it's "not my fault" that his actions may have inspired others to kill civilians.

"That's like somebody reading 'Helter Skelter' and saying that ... it influenced him to do the same thing," he said. "I can't help that."