Rise of ‘homegrown’ threat changes face of terrorism
The face of terrorism is changing in the United States as the country
comes to terms with the rising threat of “homegrown” terrorists who look
and sound nothing like Hollywood typecasts.
A tall, fair-skinned American named David Coleman Headley is set to
plead guilty in a Chicago court Thursday to using his Western appearance
as a cover while scoping out targets in India for the deadly 2008 Mumbai
siege and plotting to attack a Danish newspaper.
Five middle class college students from Virginia were meanwhile
slapped with terrorism charges in Pakistan Wednesday after being caught
on their way to allegedly join up with Taliban-led militants fighting US
and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Colleen LaRose — a blond, blue eyed Texan who converted to Islam and
adopted the moniker JihadJane after meeting extremists online — was
charged with plotting an assassination in Sweden and seeking out new
recruits in an indictment unsealed this month.
LaRose’s transformation is “one of our worst nightmares playing out,”
said Jerrold Post, author of “The Mind of the Terrorist” and director of
the political psychology program at George Washington University.
“Individuals carrying American, British, French, any European
passport who are indistinguishable from other citizens and who have been
somehow radicalized... I have every reason to believe this will be
increasing in frequency,” Post told AFP in a recent interview.
US counterterrorism agencies are “concerned” about the influence of
inspirational figures who reach out online to radicalizing new
adherents, said Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence.
One such figure is Anwar al-Aulaqi, a radical imam who was born in
New Mexico and is believed to be hiding in Yemen, Blair told a
congressional hearing last month in his annual threat assessment last
Al-Aulaqi has been cited as an influence on three of the hijackers in
the September 11, 2001 attacks and was in e-mail contact with Major
Nadal Hassan, the army psychiatrist accused of opening fire at the Fort
Hood army base and killing 13 people in November.
He has also been linked to a Nigerian student accused of trying to
blow up a Detroit-bound flight with explosives in his underwear on
Christmas Eve and Sharif Mobley, a New Jersey-born man arrested in Yemen
this month on terror charges.
“Thus far, radicalization of groups and individuals in the United
States has done more to spread jihadist ideology and generate support
for violent causes overseas than it has produced terrorists targeting
the homeland,” Blair said.
“The tragic violence at Fort Hood last year underscores our concerns
about the damage that even an individual or small number of homegrown
extremists can do if they have the will and access.”
Rising political tensions following the election of the nation’s
first black president combined with a lengthy and deep economic downturn
has also led to the growth of other forms of domestic terrorism.
The number of extremist groups and armed militias which advocate
radical anti-government doctrines and conspiracy theories nearly tripled
last year to 512 from 149 in 2008, according a recent report by to the
Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of hate groups.
While the movement has not spurred any organized attacks like the
1995 Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead, there have been a
number of high-profile attacks by frustrated men who espouse radical
A mentally unstable California man opened fire on police officers
outside the Pentagon earlier this month after apparently posting rants
online about the “barbaric US government” and warning of a coming “new
A Texas pilot who was described by his friends as “easygoing” flew
his single-engine plane into an Austin tax office last month after
posting a rambling suicide note online describing his longstanding
grudge against the government.
Prominent columnist Leonard Pitts said the Jihad Jane case — along
with other home-grown terrorists like former Chicago gang member Jose
Padilla who was accused of plotting to detonate a ‘dirty bomb — shows
how foolish it would be for counter-terrorism agencies to rely on racial
“Evil is an equal opportunity employer,” he said.