The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on September 22 that the number of terrorist plots against the U.S. is increasing. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are focusing on smaller but more frequent attacks that are harder to prevent and Westerners, including Americans, are being recruited for them. This change will make it easier for the enemy to unpredictably strike at “soft” targets at a time when the U.S. is already in a recession.
“[Plots against the homeland] have surpassed the number and pace of attacks during any year since 9⁄11,” Leitner said. He added that the threat is becoming “far more complex” and that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have an “increasing ability to provide training, guidance, and support for attacks against the U.S…” The tempo is increasing not only because of a switch in tactics but because of an increase in strength.
The effectiveness of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates is enhanced by the growing number of homegrown jihadists. The Obama Administration has privately concluded that the radicalization of Muslim-Americans is increasing. A study by the RAND Corporation concluded the same, documenting that 10 of the nearly 30 homegrown terrorist plots since 2001 occurred in 2009 alone. The study’s author attributes this rise to a “dramatic increase” in the jihadist presence on the Internet, especially of chat rooms and websites in English.
A review of 2009 and 2010 thus far shows the fruits of this evolving threat. On June 1, 2009, a Muslim convert carried out a shooting at a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas that killed one soldier. On November 5, Nidal Malik Hassan opened fire on his colleagues in the U.S. military at Fort Hood in Texas, killing 13. On Christmas Day, a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb in his underwear on an airliner as it landed in Detroit. And on May 5, 2010, Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. This does not even include the arrests of other Americans supporting terrorist groups or even actively planning attacks out.
Al-Qaeda’s affiliates have seen a sharp improvement in their ability to recruit Americans. In December 2009, five Americans from the northern Virginia and Washington D.C. area were arrested in Pakistan as they traveled to North Waziristan’s terrorist camps. The uncle to one of the recruits belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a group with links to Al-Qaeda and was allowing them to stay at his home when they were caught. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has recruited up to three dozen former convicts who converted to Islam and its American leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, is inspiring jihadists throughout the West.
Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, has recruited around 20 Somali-Americans in Minnesota and at least 14 Americans have been arrested or indicted for supporting the group. One of the writers for RevolutionMuslim.com, the radical American-Muslim website that threatened the lives of the creators of South Park for depicting Mohammed, was arrested in July for planning on joining the affiliate. Most recently on August 4, a man in Chicago was charged with planning to join the group’s ranks in Somalia. Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has also recruited Americans. A Texan who moved to Spain was arrested on September 28 for sending money to the terrorist group but subsequently released by the Spanish judge due to a lack of evidence. His passport was confiscated and he is required to report to the police on a daily basis.
Captain Dean T. Olson, author of _Perfect Enemy: The Law Enforcement Manual of Islamist Terrorism_, told FrontPage that the primary reason for the acceleration of Islamic radicalization is that the West has failed to wage an ideological offensive, particularly against the propaganda that is successfully teaching Muslims that the U.S. is waging a war against Islam, a theme pushed by Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in the West.
“This ideology is espoused in the U.S. by the 80 percent of mosques controlled by the Saudi Wahhabis and increasingly by the explosive growth of media and the Internet as tools to recruit jihadists,” he said. One FBI counter-terrorism official estimated that roughly 10 percent of imams at the roughly 2,000 mosques in the U.S. preach extremism, but conceded it was a conservative estimate.
Polls of Muslim-Americans show a mixed picture. Interestingly, a Pew survey in 2007 found that “Native-born Muslims express overwhelming support for the notion that mosques should express their views on social and political matters. By contrast, a large majority of foreign-born Muslims—many of whom are from countries where religion and politics are often closely intertwined—say that mosques should keep out of political matters.” A total of 49 percent of Muslims in the U.S. want their mosques to stay out of political issues. It appears that the Muslims who have first-hand experience with the combination of mosque and state are most likely to oppose it.
Pew has found that 50 percent of Muslim-Americans do not believe the Koran is the literal word of God and that 78 percent do not believe suicide bombings to defend Islam are ever justified. The results also showed that Al-Qaeda only had a 5 percent favorability rating and 10 percent view them “somewhat” unfavorably. On the other hand, 8 percent say suicide bombing is “often” justified and 7 percent say it is “sometimes” justified. Over one-fourth of Muslims between the ages of 18 and 29 say suicide bombings can be justified and of that same age group, 7 percent view Al-Qaeda favorably, and 16 percent see them “somewhat” unfavorably. This leaves a very significant minority from which terrorist groups can draw from.
The latest terror alerts in Bin Laden are a reflection of his reported directive to model operations on the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Captain Olson says this is to be expected, as a top Al-Qaeda theorist named Mustafa Setmariam Nasar published a 1,600 page book in 2004 where“he proposed that the next stage of jihad will be characterized by terrorism created by individuals or small autonomous groups to wear down the enemy following a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ strategy.”
A major flaw in the West’s strategy in fighting radical Islam is focusing almost solely on the terrorist groups’ abilities to carry out violent operations, rather than trying to discredit their ideology. The U.S. government can kill terrorists to stop them from coming here, but their ideas have already arrived.
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