The Tsarnaev brothers’ brief reign of terror has shed light on a growing threat to the safety of Americans: homegrown Islamic terrorists. While the brothers were originally from Chechnya, their family had been in the U.S. for almost a decade according to the N.Y. Times. The brothers, age 15 and 8 at the time, were already Muslim but were almost certainly radicalized long after they became American immigrants.
Homegrown radicals are people who were either born in the United States or who immigrated here prior to becoming terrorists. In many cases, homegrown Islamic radicals become radicalized in isolation. Rather than attending mosques, they listen to and read sermons of radical mullahs on the internet. Many homegrown radicals were converted to radical Islam by the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in the U.S. He later fled to Yemen where he was killed in 2011 by a drone strike. Some homegrown radicals were born into Muslim families; others converted to Islam later in life.
Unlike some early post-9/11 attacks and arrests, homegrown terrorists are not always directly affiliated with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. They may not have traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or other Middle Eastern countries for training. They often receive information from jihadist internet sites such as al Qaeda’s “Inspire” online magazine, but may not receive direct instructions from al Qaeda leaders. In some cases, al Qaeda may not even be aware of the homegrown radical’s existence.
One of the most famous instances of homegrown terrorism was the 2009 Fort Hood massacre in which Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan murdered 13 people and wounded 32 others. After the attack, it was revealed that Hasan, a native Virginian, had been in email contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. Hasan, who had attended the same mosque as two of the September 11 hijackers, reportedly jumped onto a desk and yelled, “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before he began shooting.
Homegrown radical terrorists go back far further, however. In late 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo murdered 10 people in sniper attacks around the District of Columbia. The Baltimore Sun detailed how Malvo’s writings described the pair’s “jihad” against the United States even though prosecutors did not consider Islamic terrorism a motive. The N.Y. Times described how Muhammad planned to extort millions of dollars from authorities with their sniper attacks and then use the money to set up jihadist training camps and fund more attacks.
The list of unsuccessful terror attacks by homegrown terrorists is already long. In 2009, a Tennessee native and Muslim convert shot and killed a soldier at a recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark. Also in 2009, the FBI broke a terror ring in Raleigh, N.C. headed by an American convert to Islam. Another high profile homegrown terrorist plot was the attempt to blow up a Portland, Ore. Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010. The man had corresponded via email with Al Qaeda leaders prior to the attempt. An army private from Texas who attempted to bomb Fort Hood in 2011 had planned to use similar devices similar to those that the Tsarnaev brothers built. That same year two Arab-Americans plotted to attack synagogues in New York City. Also in 2011, a New York convert to Islam attempted to attack government buildings around Bayonne, N.J. with pipe bombs. In 2012, a Muslim convert from Brooklyn made death threats against the creators of “South Park” after the show depicted the prophet Mohammed. That same year a Massachusetts man plotted to bomb the Pentagon with a remote control airplane.
Georgia was home to at least one homegrown Islamic radical. In 2011, Jameela Barnette of Marietta mailed a bloody pig’s foot to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and a Curious George doll to Greg Ball, a state senator from New York. Ms. Barnette, who referred to herself as a “Messenger of Allah and Defender of Islam” told Examiner that her actions were based in her Muslim faith. She said that she believed that suicide bombings and terrorist attacks are justified. Barnette died on Christmas Day 2011 when she ambushed police officers with a gun and knife as they responded to a panic alarm in her home.
The problem of homegrown terrorism is not based on race or skin color. Ryan G. Anderson was a white Muslim convert and a U.S. Army National Guard tank crewman who tried to spy for Al Qaeda in 2003. According to the Defense Human Resources case study, Anderson told undercover agents, “I wish to desert from the U.S. Army. I wish to defect from the United States. I wish to join al-Qaeda, train its members and conduct terrorist attacks.”
Colleen LaRose, also known as “Jihad Jane,” was also a white Muslim convert. In 2009, LaRose received orders from Al Qaeda, again via the internet, to kill a Swedish artist who had blasphemed Mohammed by drawing his head on the body of a dog. LaRose worked with two other homegrown terrorists on the plot and actually traveled to Europe to stalk her prey. She was arrested when she returned to the U.S.
A World Opinion poll of Middle Eastern Muslims shows that an average of about 30 percent supports groups that attack Americans. According to a Pew poll of American Muslims, eight percent believe that suicide bombing is often or sometimes justified and five percent have a favorable view of al Qaeda.
The study estimates that there are approximately 1.5 million Muslims over the age of 18 in the U.S. Slightly more than half are males and approximately 30 percent of the males are 18-29 years old. Although there are female suicide bombers, the majority are young men and the 18-29 age group is a high risk category. If, of the estimated 243,000 young American Muslims, only five percent are potential radicals, that still leaves over 12,000 possible homegrown terrorists.
The Boston Marathon bombing may signal a new phase in the War on Terror in which al Qaeda takes full advantage of the resources provided by homegrown American radicals. In the years since September 11, the terrorist group has been unable to launch another successful attack in the United States. Several attempts at complex, coordinated attacks have been foiled by security agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The success of the low tech and simple assault in Boston may inspire al Qaeda to reassess its strategy, focusing instead on instigating large numbers of small attacks using homegrown bombers and gunmen.
Originally published on Examiner.com: