Based on Research by the New America Foundation and
Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy.
How real is the “homegrown” Islamist terrorist threat? The New America Foundation and Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy examined the 192 post-9/11 cases of Americans or U.S. residents convicted or charged of some form of jihadist terrorist activity directed against the United States, as well as the cases of those American citizens who have traveled overseas to join a jihadist terrorist group.
None of the 192 cases we investigated involved individuals plotting with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. Given all the post-9/11 concerns about terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction this is one of our more positive findings.
Only four of the homegrown plots since 9/11 progressed to an actual attack in the United States, attacks that resulted in a total of seventeen deaths. The most notable was the 2009 shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed thirteen.
By way of comparison, according to the FBI, between 2001 and 2009 73 people were killed in hate crimes in the United States. And more than 15,000 murders are committed in the United States every year.
The number of jihadist terrorism cases involving U.S. citizens or residents has spiked in the past two years. In 2009 and 2010 there were 76, almost half of the total since 9/11. This increase was driven, in part, by plots that could have killed dozens, such as the Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad’s attempt to bomb Times Square in May 2010, but also by nine arrests in FBI sting operations, as well as by the 32 people who were charged with fundraising, recruiting or traveling abroad to fight for the Somali terrorist group, Al-Shabaab.
The U.S. military, fighting wars in two Muslim countries, is firmly in the crosshairs of homegrown jihadist militants. Around one in three of such cases involved a U.S. military target, ranging from Quantico Marine Base in Virginia to American soldiers serving overseas.
In a third of the cases the individuals involved were training on weapons or manufactured or acquired weaponry.
Over one-fifth of the post-9/11 Islamist terrorism cases originated with tips from Muslim community members or involved the cooperation of the families of alleged plotters. (Not included in our total were the tips from the local community that led to investigations into the disappearances of Somali-American youths to fight for the Somali group Al-Shabaab because it is difficult to put an exact number of the cases affected by those tips.)
Tips from Muslim communities and families warned authorities, for instance, about the danger posed by Daniel Boyd, who was planning to attack the Quantico Marine base in 2009, as well as the “D.C. 5” who tried to join militant groups in Pakistan the same year.
A third of cases we surveyed involved the use of an informant, while a further one in ten involved an undercover federal agent. (Five cases involved both).
Rather than being the uneducated, young Arab-American immigrants of popular imagination, the homegrown militants do not fit any particular socio-economic or ethnic profile. Their average age is thirty. Of the cases for which ethnicity could be determined, only a quarter are of Arab descent, while 9% are African-American, 12% are Caucasian, 18% are South Asian, 18% are of Somali descent, and the rest are either mixed race or of other ethnicities. About half the cases involved a U.S-born American citizen, while another third were naturalized citizens. And of the 94 cases where education could be ascertained, two thirds pursued at least some college courses, and one in ten had completed a Masters, PhD or doctoral equivalent.
This report is the work of Peter Bergen, Andrew Lebovich, Matthew Reed, Laura Hohnsbeen, Nicole Salter, and Sophie Schmidt at the New America Foundation, and Professor William Banks, Alyssa Procopio, Jason Cherish, Joseph Robertson, Matthew Michaelis, Richard Lim, Laura Adams, and Drew Dickinson from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
We also want to acknowledge the work of others in this field: Karen Greenberg at New York University’s Center on Law & Security, Brian Jenkins at RAND, David Shanzer at Duke University, Charles Kurzman at the University of North Carolina, and Alejandro Beutel of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
This report is a living document that will be consistently updated as both new information and new cases come in.
The narrative below considers:
-the numbers of homicides committed by individuals in these cases.
-the role of Muslim communities and families in tipping off law enforcement about possible militant activities that precipitated some of these cases.
-the role of informants and undercover law enforcement officers in making some of these cases.
-the numbers of cases involving the targeting of US military facilities or personnel both at home and abroad.
-a breakdown of these cases by the year the individuals were charged or convicted in these cases either in the U.S. or overseas.
-a break down the cases by the ethnic background of the individuals accused or convicted.
Note: From our count we excluded post-9/11 cases in the United States involving either Hezbollah or Hamas as neither group has targeted Americans since 9/11. We did include groups allied to al-Qaeda such as the Somali group Al Shabaab, or that are influenced by al-Qaeda’s ideology such as the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which sought out and killed Americans in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. We also included individuals motivated by al-Qaeda’s ideology of violence directed at the United States.