The White House last week declared a new focus on the threat of homegrown terrorism, warning that “several recent incidences of violent extremists in the United States who are committed to fighting here and abroad have underscored the threat to the United States and our interests posed by individuals radicalized at home.”
That language is from the Obama Administration’s new National Security Strategy, a document (.pdf) that comes out every few years (the last was in 2006) and serves as a broad statement of policy. The document continues: “Our best defenses against this threat are well informed and equipped families, local communities, and institutions.”
Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan also spoke to the issue last week. At a speech at a Washington think tank, he described “a new phase to the terrorist threat, no longer limited to coordinated, sophisticated, 9/11-style attacks, but expanding to single individuals attempting to carry out relatively unsophisticated attacks.”
Brennan counted at least seven cases in the past year that involve allegations — which, it’s important to note, have not all been proven — of homegrown terrorism. The cases summarized below were all cited by Brennan. Some involve alleged plots that were not close to fruition. The killings at Fort Hood is easily the most serious incident of the past year.
Here’s the rundown:
July 2009 Daniel Patrick Boyd of North Carolina, a U.S. citizen, drywall contractor, and Muslim convert, was charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and to murder people overseas. The government alleges he and several other men, including his two sons, discussed waging jihad, possessed rifles, and had done military-style training. In September, a charge of conspiring to murder military personnel was added, with the government alleging Boyd had gotten maps of the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
September 2009 Najubullah Zazi, an Afghan-born legal resident of the U.S. who lived in Denver, was charged in September, and pleaded guilty in February, to a plot to set off a bomb in the New York subway system. Zazi, who attended high school in Queens, said he got bomb training in Pakistan from al Qaeda operatives in 2008 and was persuaded to come back to the U.S. and “sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the United States military was doing to civilians in Afghanistan by sacrificing my soul for the sake of saving other souls.”
October 2009 In charges brought in October and unsealed this March, the government alleges that Colleen LaRose, a middle-aged Philadelphia woman who converted to Islam and used the online handle JihadJane, agreed to kill a Swedish artist who had drawn an insulting picture of Mohammed. In a 2008 YouTube comment LaRose allegedly wrote she wanted to help “the suffering Muslim people.” She allegedly traveled to Europe last year and tracked the artist online but never made an attempt on his life. She is charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
November 2009 In court fillings charging eight Somali-American men with attending training camps in Somalia, prosecutors allege that roughly 20 men from Minnesota’s Somali community traveled to Somalia and “trained with al-Shabaab against Ethiopian forces, African Union troops, and the internationally supported transitional federal government” Al-Shabaab is an Islamic group that controls large sections of Somalia and is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. (The man who was arrested Sunday in Montreal after a Paris-Mexico City flight was blocked from entering U.S. airspace is a suspected member of al-Shabaab.
November 2009 Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, allegedly opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people. A Virginia-born man of Palestinian descent, Hasan reportedly exchanged emails in 2008 with extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen living in Yemen, inquiring about whether it would be justified for a Muslim to kill soldiers. He also was angered by the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
December 2009 Five young men from northern Virginia — including Howard University dental student Ramy Zamzam (pictured right) — were arrested in Pakistan and charged in March with plotting attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S. There have been reports that the men tried, but failed, to join terrorist groups. The men, who met at a Fairfax mosque, deny they are terrorists and say they wanted to help Afghans made homeless by the war.
May 2010 Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born man who moved to the U.S. in 1999 and became a citizen a decade later, allegedly parked a Nissan pathfinder packed with a crude bomb in the middle of Times Square. The bomb failed. Shahzad and his wife had lived what appeared to be a conventional life in Shelton, Conn., where their house was foreclosed on last year. In the summer of 2009 he reportedly traveled to Pakistan, where, Shahzad told authorities, according to the criminal complaint against him “he had recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan.” Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Pakistani Taliban facilitated the attack, but other officials have questioned that claim.
In response to these cases, the Obama Administration says it “will invest in intelligence to understand this threat and expand community engagement and development programs to empower local communities,” according to the National Security Strategy.