Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims, driven by a wave of English-language online propaganda and reflected in aspiring fighters’ trips to hot spots such as Pakistan and Somalia.
The Obama administration, grappling with a spate of recent Islamic terrorism cases on U.S. soil, has concluded that the country confronts a rising threat from homegrown extremism.(TERRORISM? I thought we were calling it MAN MADE DISASTERS now?)
Europe had been the front line, the target of successive attacks and major plots, while the U.S. remained relatively calm. But the number, variety and scale of recent U.S. cases suggest 2009 has been the most dangerous year domestically since 2001, anti-terrorism experts said:
* There were major arrests of Americans accused of plotting with Al Qaeda and its allies, including an Afghan American charged in a New York bomb plot described as the most serious threat in this country since the Sept. 11 attacks.
* Authorities tracked other extremism suspects joining foreign networks, including Somali Americans going to the battlegrounds of their ancestral homeland and an Albanian American from Brooklyn who was arrested in Kosovo.
* The FBI rounded up homegrown terrorism suspects in Dallas, Detroit and Raleigh, N.C., saying that it had broken up plots targeting a synagogue, government buildings and military facilities.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued her strongest public comments yet on the homegrown terrorism threat.
“We’ve seen an increased number of arrests here in the U.S. of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, or supporting terror groups abroad such as Al Qaeda,” Napolitano said in a speech in New York. “Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront.” Officials acknowledged that her tone had changed, though they said terrorism has been her focus since becoming Homeland Security chief. (HAH!)
“You are seeing the full spectrum of the threats you face in terrorism,” former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.
“Radicalization is clearly happening in the U.S.,” said Mitchell Silber, director of analysis for the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department. “In years past, you couldn’t say that about the U.S. You could say it about Europe.”
Nonetheless, recent investigations have run across Americans suspected of being operatives of Al Qaeda and its allies who were trained overseas and, in several cases, allegedly conspired with top terrorism bosses. They include a convert from Long Island, N.Y, who was captured in Pakistan late last year; a Chicago businessman accused of scouting foreign targets for a Pakistani network; and at least 15 Somali American youths from Minneapolis who returned to fight in their ancestral homeland.
“A larger trend has emerged that is not surprising, but is disturbing,” Chertoff said. “You are beginning to see the fruits of the pipeline that Al Qaeda built to train Westerners and send them back to their homelands. . . . This underscores the central significance of disrupting the pipeline at its source.”
A campaign of U.S. airstrikes launched last year has pounded Al Qaeda hide-outs in Pakistan. But the flow of trainees gathered momentum in 2007 when Pakistani security forces ceded turf to militant groups, officials said. The suspect in the New York plot, Najibullah Zazi, and the Long Island convert, Bryant Neal Vinas, allegedly met in Pakistan in 2008 and discussed attacks on U.S. targets with Al Qaeda chiefs.
Vinas and Zazi are the first Americans to be accused of joining Al Qaeda in several years.
Meanwhile, Silber said in recent congressional testimony: “There have been a half-dozen cases of individuals who, instead of traveling abroad to carry out violence, have elected to attempt to do it here. This is substantially greater than what we have seen in the past, and may reflect an emerging pattern.”
Some feel radicalization in the United States has been worse than authorities thought for some time. “You can be middle-class and have bright prospects but become a jihadist,” he said. “We have to broaden the analysis. This idea of American exceptionalism, the comparison with Europe, should not blind us to the fact that we are going toward a broader participation in jihad.” LA TIMES