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Homeland Security

Analysis: Preventing the Next Attack

Council on Foreign Relations

May 11, 2007
Prepared by: Eben Kaplan

For years, terrorism experts have cautioned that the next terrorist attack in the United States could be carried out by a homegrown cell, inspired by radical propaganda but with no formal ties to any terrorist organization. On May 8 these warnings gained some gravity when the U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrests of six men in New Jersey who were allegedly plotting an armed assault ( on the Fort Dix Army base. Four of the accused conspirators came from the former Yugoslavia, one from Turkey, and one from Jordan; none had any known ties to other terrorist groups. Their capture capped a fifteen-month FBI investigation (PDF).

Stories like this have become increasingly familiar. The New York Police Department received high praise after a yearlong undercover operation (New York) resulted in the arrest and conviction of two men plotting to bomb the Herald Square subway station in 2004. Defendants in that case claimed entrapment, as did Hamid Hayat, a Pakistani-American teenager from Lodi, California, who in 2006 was convicted in federal court of providing support to terrorists. He maintains an undercover FBI agent openly pressured him to explore radical ideologies (LAT). As with previous cases, family members of the six men arrested in New Jersey claim their innocence (WashPost). In earlier instances, local Muslim communities felt unfairly targeted by law enforcement, a sentiment which, as this Backgrounder explains, could help radicalize some American Muslims while leading others to mistrust the police.

All this speaks to the difficulties faced by law enforcement officials charged with combating homegrown terrorism. Jihadi propaganda, easily accessed on the Internet, has led to a rise in self-starting terrorist cells across the globe.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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