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al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat

109th Congress
2d Session
Union Calendar No. 355
Report 109-615

al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat







Homegrown Terrorism

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a University of Maryland database that contains information on worldwide terror incidents since 1970, reports that one of every seven terrorist attacks is carried out by a homegrown extremist.65 The July 2005 bombings in London support this trend, and may provide further insight into the future of terrorist activities. These terrorists were homegrown, born or raised in the United Kingdom. Although their ties to al-Qaeda remain unclear, they were willing to conduct attacks to support al-Qaeda's global jihad.

London is not the only place where homegrown terrorists have carried out attacks against innocent people. In 2004, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh brought this issue to the forefront. Van Gogh was murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch citizen of Moroccan decent, who belonged to the Hofstad Group, a radical extremist group made up of mainly Dutch citizens of North African decent. Attacks in Casablanca, Morocco and Madrid, Spain were also the work of homegrown terrorist cells. On November 4, 2005, Pakistani security forces captured Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (aka Abu Musab al-Suri), a jihadist theorist suspected of planning the 2004 and 2005 bombings in Madrid and London. Whether it is an individual assassination or a large scale attack, both represent religious-inspired terrorism as propounded by al-Qaeda since the late 20th Century.66

The presence of "homegrown" Islamist extremist cells in Europe is of particular concern to the United States. Most Western European countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of those countries to visit the United States without a visa. There is concern that Islamist extremists who have citizenship in these countries could now gain entry to the United States with relative ease.

Recent events demonstrate that Europe is not the only location where Islamic militants can establish themselves. There are legitimate concerns about the terrorist threats orchestrated by cells in Mexico or Canada, countries with whom we share some 5,000 miles of border. For many reasons, security along the border with Mexico has been a primary focus. However, the border to the north, which in many places is porous and unattended, must also be addressed. Disturbingly little attention has been paid to this 3,100 mile border despite the fact that terrorist groups have made previous attempts to enter the United States from Canada (the Millennium Plot). A Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman recently stated that "fewer than ten percent-approximately 1,000-of the nation's border patrol agents are deployed to the Canadian border."67

On June 4, 2006, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 17 Canadian suspects on terror charges. The group, which ranged in age from 19-43, is charged with purchasing three tons of ammonium nitrate for the manufacture of bombs to attack Canadian government buildings. The group also appears to have links with Islamic militants in the United States. The people involved seem to meet the criteria of the growing homegrown terrorism threat that we in America may not he following as closely as we should. The individuals arrested by the Canadian police are educated, come from well-established families and have no criminal record-there is nothing in their past to draw the attention of law enforcement officials. This group met in relative anonymity and was able to spread support for violent Jihad. The fact that it was ablec to do so is a fundamental national security threat.

The Dutch intelligence agency, AIVD, recently conducted a study that found certain Muslim youth groups in the Netherlands are not only receptive to radicalization, but perceive violent Jihad as positive and "cool."68 The study found several factors associated with the radicalization of Muslims. First, Western nations have struggled with only limited success to integrate Muslim immigrant communities into the rest of society. This lack of integration leaves some Muslims feeling disenfranchised and alienated from Western society. This is particularly true among second and third generation Muslims in Europe who feel discriminated against and rarely leave their Muslim enclaves. The international community is also seeing a Muslim youth that is becoming keenly aware of his heritage and is equally interested in Muslim affairs globally. The increasing use of the Internet allows Muslim youth to communicate with other Muslims worldwide. They see what is happening to fellow Muslims in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq and are angry and frustrated at what they consider to be Western policies toward Muslims. Usama bin Laden continually speaks along these lines when he says, "Muslims are being humiliated, tortured and ruthlessly killed all over the world, and its time to fight these satanic forces with the utmost strength and power".69 Islamist extremists have capitalized on events like the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and Guantanamo Bay to rally Muslim support against the West. Other factors that may lead Muslims to feel a sense of cultural alienation include their social status, lack of employment opportunities and imprisonment.

It should be noted that homegrown cells aligning their beliefs with al-Qaeda or radical Islam are not unique to Europe. While the United States has not seen a major attack by homegrown terrorists, it does not mean we are immune from such an attack. Following the July 2005 bombings in London, FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted, "The United States could face attacks from homegrown terrorism very similar to bombings in London that killed 52 people and wounded another 700." The plot carried out by four men in London may be a "likely model for future U.S. attacks." The bombers, all British citizens, had no criminal records, weren't on any watch lists and had no extremist pasts.70

U.S. prisons and universities continue to be used as potential recruitment centers for Islamist extremists. In addition, some mosques have been used by extremist groups to recruit new members. The radicalization of Islamic inmates in prison is not a recent phenomenon. Prison systems throughout the world have been and continue to be breeding grounds for radicalism and facilities for the planning and training of radical activities. Concerns regarding the radicalization of Muslim inmates were heightened after former inmates Richard Reid and Jose Padilla were arrested for allegedly attempting to commit terrorist acts against the United States.

In July 2005, law enforcement officials uncovered a California-based homegrown Islamic terrorist cell, known as Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh (JIS). This group was planning attacks against military facilities, religious institutions and other facilities in the United States. Kevin James (a.k.a. Shakyh Shahaab Murshid), the founder of JIS, recruited fellow prison inmates to join JIS. The group preached it was the duty of members to target for violent attack any enemies of Islam, including the U.S. Government and Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel. Upon release from prison, JIS members sought to establish cells of JIS members outside of prison who were willing to plot terrorist acts and commit armed robberies.71 While the group did not actively work on behalf of Usama bin Laden, it did swear allegiance to al-Qaeda.

65 Statistic provided by the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START), Gary LaFree,
66 Violent Jihad in the Netherlands: Current trends in the Islamist terrorist threat, Report produced by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, The Hague: Netherlands, March 2006, p.7.
67 "Homegrown Terrorists Under Close Watch in the U.S." Associated Press, June 22, 2006.
68 Violent Jihad in the Netherlands: Current trends in the Islamist terrorist threat, Report produced by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, The Hague: Netherlands, March 2006, p.8.
69 Usama bin Laden, "Message to Muslim Youth," Markaz al-Dawa (Internet), December 13, 2001.
70 Charlotte Sector, "Experts Say Suicide Mission in the U.S. is Inevitable," ABC News, July 18, 2005.
71 "Four Men Indicted on Terrorism charges Related to Conspiracy to Attack Military Facilities, Other Targets," U.S. Department of Justice,, August 31, 2005.



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