Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin
Psychoanalyst & Counter Terrorist Expert

John Zawahri–Ayman Zawahiri and the Santa Monica Shootings –What’s in a Name?

Hat tip to my former doctoral student, Dr. David Van Dyke, who sent me the name of the Santa Monica College shooter when it was released — John Zawahri. Will this be another instance in which the press does not address the issue of cross-cultural problems with regard to the Arab Muslim and nonArab Muslim immigrant communities and propensity to violence? Will this be like the triple homicide in Waltham on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 that was written off to a drug war, only now reopened with Tamerlan Tsarnaev linked to the murders? Like the imitative copy cat nature of suicide, violent acts spread across the globe.

I immediately associated to an alternative spelling of John’s surname — Zawahiri as in Amman, Osama bin Laden’s number two and now head of Al Qaeda. John apparently has a tie to Lebanon as his mother resides there while Ayman is Egyptian, thought to be currently hiding out in Pakistan. John had a brother named Chris whom he killed. I also associated to Ziad Jarrah, one of the 9/11 terrorists who grew up in Beirut and attended a Catholic School yet got swept up in jihad.

It is besides the point if John and Ayman are related because no matter what, they are bond together as perpetrators of ruthless premeditated murder. John Zawahri had a documented history of mental illness as well as coming from an immigrant Arab family that had a documented family history of domestic violence. The mix is nearly lethal. It is like a time bomb waiting to detonate.

We are witnessing more hybrid transformational terrorist acts because terrorism is mass-mediated and its global images readily erase the lines between crime categories.

Our collective unconscious boots other previous attacks – Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, the Boston Marathon Attack, Woolwich and even 9/11.

These incidents interlock with domestic violence, rampage shootings and suicide bombing. It is not politically correct to connect these dots to distill the rampage to its lowest common denominator and imagery template — murder-suicide in the family. It is just too scary unconsciously because this template brings the terror home.

Ironically, I was in Santa Monica in 2008. I presented on interlocking terrorisms of political and domestic violence at Rand’s 3rd Annual Conference — Terrorism and Global Security: Evolving Muslim Communities in the U.S. and Europe. My presentation was entitled “Ku So Dhawow Bulshayada” [Somali for Welcome to our community] — ‘Mogadishu’ Minnesota aka Minneapolis.

The majority of Somalis, 95 percent, are good people. They want the same thing we want — to put food on the table, cloth, educate the kids and live in a nonviolent environment. Yet there are still the bad guys in prison who told me, why they hated America — because the moment they raised their hands to hit their women and children, the kids would call the police. Back in 2008 the Somali community was a poorly integrated community, a kind of parallel community in American life. Much has changed for the better over the past five years. This is not to say that there aren’t still problems.

LAPD officer Dimitri Kort called me in St. Paul, Minnesota a couple of weeks after I presented at Rand concerning the Somali community in Minneapolis. He said: “I heard you are the go-to-person concerning understanding Somali culture.” We talked for nearly an hour. All of a sudden there was a burgeoning Somali community in the L.A. area.

At Rand I predicted that there would be problems. Sure enough the first America Suicide Bomber, Shirwa Ahmed, detonated five months later in Puntland. Besides problems in the Somali community concerning domestic violence and female genital mutilation, al-Shabaab had been recruiting for jihad.

John Zawahri could have also gone a similar route like Shirwa Ahmed. Instead, it seems he chose to commit his violence in America. However, the Santa Monica shootings resonate with jihad at least unconsciously and that fact alone should not be minimized or overlo. Let’s take a moment to look at the Santa Monica Attack:

Domestic Violence Murders:
The attack started out as a domestic violence incident involving arson and the murder of the father Samir who was know to have abused the mother Randa Abdou and by extension at the very least and probably outright his sons. John murdered his older brother Christopher. The elder brother holds a special position in this kind of family like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, to protect honor and ward off shame by willfully cleansing honor in blood.

Car Hijacking and Rampage shootings – we saw this during the Boston Marathon Attacks.

Then murder of three innocent people, Carlos Navarro Franco and his daughter Marcela and Margarita Gomez. The rampage ended with suicide by cop a la the Asian Filipino Moro tradition.

The murderer was said to have owned a Samurai sword, a Japanese weapon also for preserving honor. But how and where did he get funding for all these weapons? Obviously he preferred to bond to weapons rather than people.

While we don’t yet know all the details yet, we do know one thing for sure. John Zawahri and Ayman Zawahiri, are unconsciously joined together in our mind’s eye in murderous rage, a kind of rage which exceeds murder itself. Above all they had (and Ayman continues to have) NO empathy for their victims. While John Zawahri has been described by a special education teacher as traumatized and clinging to his mother at age four, we must not right this rampage off to Post-Traumatic Stress as some may argue. It was premeditated. The lack of empathy signals that the problem arises much earlier in the developmental attachment between mother and son in conjunction with his unique biology and genetics. Many people suffer from PTSD but they do not commit rampage shootings and they DO have empathy. We have to wait this one out to see how this case develops.

About the Author
Dr. Kobrin made aliyah in 2010 and is an internationally renowned counterterrorism expert and psychoanalyst holding a PhD in Islamic literature, aljamía 16th c. Author of five books. She has conducted prison interviews, a former military contractor with an academic appointment as external expert at La Universidad de Granada. She is a senior research analyst for The Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism Center. She also works in citizen diplomacy. In August 2020 she was the first Israeli to be live-streamed from Islamabad.