Cover Story
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

On our turf

Experts say the threat of domestic terrorism is growing. But are officials ready to call it what it is?

Issue: "Homegrown terror," Dec. 5, 2009

While the rest of us were working, cooking, paying the bills, and carpooling our kids, some in our own midst, many of them fellow citizens, were plotting to kill us.

Since May of this year, federal agents have knocked down five elaborate terror plots to kill Americans on American soil:

May 2009: FBI agents arrested four men-three U.S.-born, one Haitian-born, all Muslim converts-after they planted bombs in cars outside the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx. The conspirators (James Cromitie, 44, David Williams, 28, Onta Williams, 32, and Laguerre Payen, 27) had also obtained from an FBI confidential informant what they thought was a fully operational surface-to-air missile that they planned to fire at an Air National Guard aircraft on the same day.

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July 2009: A North Carolina grand jury returned a seven-count indictment against eight men, all devout Muslims, for conspiracy to provide material support for terrorists. On Sept. 24, the grand jury upgraded the charges for two men-Daniel Boyd, 39, and Hysen Sherifi,24-to conspiring to murder U.S. military personnel at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va. Seven of the men, including Boyd, were U.S. citizens. In fact, friends described Boyd as a model citizen.

September 2009: Federal agents arrested al-Qaeda operative Najibullah Zazi, 24, and his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, at the younger man's suburban Denver home. Another man, Ahmad Wai Afzali, 37, of Flushing, N.Y., was also arrested. Zazi was charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against targets in the United States that may have included sports stadiums and Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

September 2009: Authorities arrested Hosam Smadi, 19, of Jordan, for attempting to destroy the 60-story Foundation Place office tower in Dallas, Texas, with a weapon of mass destruction. Smadi actually pushed the button on a cell phone he thought would detonate a truck bomb he'd staged in a parking garage underneath the structure. But the bomb was a fake, provided by FBI undercover operatives.

October 2009: Authorities charged Tarek Mehanna, 27, and Ahmad Abousamra, 28, both of Massachusetts, in a 10-count indictment with providing and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, and other charges. In intercepted communications, Mehanna expressed admiration for the 9/11 hijackers and Osama bin Laden; he conspired with Abousamra to join a terrorist camp overseas, launch an attack on shoppers at a suburban U.S. mall, and assassinate two members of the U.S. government's executive branch.

Then, in November, one plot slipped through the cracks.

On Nov. 5, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. citizen and devout Muslim, allegedly shot and killed 14 people, including an unborn child, and wounded 30 others at Fort Hood, Texas. During the murder spree, witnesses heard Hasan bellowing the Islamic jihadist battle cry, "Allahu Akbar!"

Before the shooting, Hasan reportedly gave away his possessions, appeared (uncharacteristically) in Muslim religious garb, and visited a strip club, an activity strictly forbidden to devout Muslims, but typical of those about to become shaheed-martyrs in the cause of jihad. Some of the 9/11 hijackers stopped in to similar joints before their deadly mission: According to jihadist teaching, the shaheed are the only Muslims granted immediate forgiveness of all sins, as well as direct entry into jannah (paradise), so there is no reason not to indulge in a little earthly pleasure before the trip.

While Hasan has yet to be found guilty and U.S. officials and media outlets remain reluctant to brand an active-duty U.S. Army officer a terrorist, those who study Islamic jihad say that Hasan's alleged rampage was the worst domestic terror attack since 9/11.

And yet, with a string of thwarted terror plots capped by the spectacular strike at Fort Hood, there have been no threat-level changes by the Department of Homeland Security, no alerts to Americans of an uptick in domestic terror plots, no issuance of warning signs for the U.S. public.

The problem, one former Pentagon expert in jihadist law told me in a telephone interview, is one of doctrine:

"We're completely off our doctrine on this whole discussion," said the analyst, whose current job consulting with U.S. government agencies on terror threats requires him not to appear by name in media. The doctrine, called Intelligence Preparation of the Environ­ment, requires analysts to create a profile of an enemy based first on who the enemy says he is. But U.S. analysts, constrained by politics, are loath to conclude and publicize what the facts already show: that jihadist Muslims who state that they kill non-Muslims because their religious ideology demands it are in fact doing so. They have successfully infiltrated the United States from foreign countries, have won and radicalized Muslim converts among U.S. citizens, and-if the uptick in busted plots is any indication-are planning violence at an increasing rate.

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