The Magazine

It Can Happen Here

America's "homegrown" terrorism was made in South Asia.

Dec 28, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 15 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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In the past year, exposure of significant jihadist recruitment inside the United States has left Americans worried that "homegrown terrorism" may become a serious threat. Eight years after the atrocities of September 11, 2001, media and government appear stunned by the upsurge of jihad incidents in the United States, including two lethal attacks. The Fort Hood massacre on November 5, for which an Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan, has been charged with 13 deaths, has been followed by two more cases.

On December 9, five college-age Muslims from northern Virginia were arrested in Pakistan. They were allegedly headed for terror training camps, and were detained along with Khalid Chaudhry, father of the apparent leader of the younger enthusiasts, Umer Farooq Chaudhry.

Then, on December 14, a filing by federal prosecutors charged that David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American businessman from Chicago whose birth name is Daood Gilani, was complicit in the terror assault that killed nearly 170 people in Bombay last year. Headley and an associate, Tahawwur Rana, had been arrested in October, accused of conspiring to blow up Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the "Muhammad cartoons" in 2005.

A connection between the arrests in Pakistan and the Chicago investigation may be demonstrated. But these episodes are just part of a daunting list over the past year. Of almost 30 Islamist terror schemes uncovered on U.S. soil since 9/11, 10 came in 2009. They included:

- a plan to attack military aircraft and synagogues in New York (four men arrested in May),

- the fatal shooting of an Army recruiter and wounding of another in Little Rock in June,

- the North Carolina plot to wage jihad in various countries (eight men charged in July),

- a conspiracy to plant bombs in New York (prevented by apprehension of the accused, an Afghan national from Denver, in September),

- an attempted bombing at an Illinois courthouse, also in September,

- an intended assault on a shopping center in Massachusetts, foiled in October,

- and a firefight later that same month in Detroit between FBI agents and radicals bent on establishing an Islamist enclave ruled by sharia law in the United States.

Following the arrests of the six Virginians (counting the father) in Pakistan, American Islamist organizations with extensive records of radical advocacy affirmed their intense desire to assist the authorities in suppressing extremism. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) proudly announced on December 9 that it had been told by parents of the five youths that they were missing, and that CAIR had then informed the FBI and assisted the bureau in its handling of the matter.

Haris Tarin, an official of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), another prominent radical group, stood on the podium at the Washington press conference where CAIR's national executive director, Nihad Awad, made this claim. Tarin added, "Any radicalization that exists is a major problem that we must [address] head on." Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society (MAS), also included in the press conference, was less ameliorative, declaring that Muslim young people "are not to be characterized as terrorist suspects. .  .  . They are indeed America's brightest prospects."

The CAIR and MPAC statements have been interpreted by some observers as a turning point for these groups. But don't hold your breath. None of these blandishments are new. If the rhetoric of CAIR and MPAC suddenly seems more determined, it is most likely because they are profoundly frightened. A wave of panic swept the American Muslim community after the Fort Hood attack. These same groups have spent decades creating a milieu sympathetic to jihadists among American Sunni Muslims. CAIR has served as a front for Hamas; MPAC's executive director, Salam Al-Marayati, took to the airwaves in Los Angeles on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, to argue that Israel was a logical target for suspicion. It is difficult to imagine that they will now turn around and break with the ideology to which they have dedicated so much energy.

Why has jihadism in this country grown so much that a group of students might go to Pakistan intending war against the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan? The most convincing explanation links the demographics of American Islam to the shift of the main terror zone from Iraq to South Asia.