Cover Story

On our turf

"On our turf" Continued...

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

Today, the main domestic terror threat does not emanate from the al-Qaeda core, said Scott Stewart, vice president of intelligence at Stratfor Global Intelligence, an intelligence analysis firm. "The U.S. government and our allies have done a very good job of dismantling the organization," Stewart said. "While they haven't been able to take out apex leaders such as Osama bin Laden . . . they've done a very good job of taking out the mid-level guys, the operational planners, who are really a critical link in conducting an attack" coordinated overseas.

In Stratfor's estimation, the biggest domestic threat now comes from "grassroots jihadists," people who form loose conspiracies and from "lone wolves," attackers who act on their own as it appears Hasan did at Fort Hood.

Since 9/11, the only successful jihadist attacks to occur on U.S. soil have involved lone wolves:

On June 1, 2009, Muslim convert Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad shot and killed Pvt. William Long at the U.S. Army/Navy recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark.

On July 4, 2002, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, 41, an Egyptian national, opened fire at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport, killing two Israelis and wounding four others before being shot dead by a security guard for the Israeli airline.

Rarely mentioned as lone wolf jihadists are the so-called "D.C. Snipers" John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo. After the pair was arrested following a killing spree that left 10 dead in the Washington, D.C., area in 2002, Malvo, then 17, told prosecutors that Muhammad's motive was to kill as many infidel "devils" as possible. Malvo's own artwork, submitted at trial, expressed jihadist sentiments. Malvo is serving six life sentences. Muhammad was executed with little fanfare on Nov. 10.

"For several years, there have been several Middle Eastern jihadists who have called for these grassroots guys to rise up in a global way and conduct attacks," Stewart said.

Such a call went out in late October when al-Qaeda leaders in the Arabian Peninsula released the 11th edition of the online magazine Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battle). In it al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wahayshi called for jihadists via Islamic websites to conduct simple attacks against "any tyrant, intelligence den, prince" or "minister" (referring to Muslim governments such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen), and "any crusaders whenever you find one of them, like at the airports of the crusader Western countries that participate in the wars against Islam, or their living compounds, trains etc.," an obvious reference to the United States and its allies.

A key problem for law enforcement officials is that lone wolf attacks rarely involve conspirators and, as a result, there are no electronic communications trails for federal agents to latch onto. Rogue actors are also difficult to preempt because there's often no evidence of an impending crime until the crime actually occurs.

Whether acting alone or with conspirators, some grassroots jihadists-Quantico plotter Daniel Boyd, for example-travel to places like Peshawar, Pakistan, to train in al-Qaeda camps. But domestic terrorists can also train here in plain sight, said Ron Sandee, research director at the NEFA Foundation, a nonprofit group that investigates terrorism. "If you are a U.S.-born citizen or a naturalized citizen, you can buy a gun, you can go to a shooting range and practice, and it's all legal," said Sandee, a former counter­terrorism analyst with the Dutch Defense Intelligence Service. "You can sell your guns inside state lines. You can go to a martial arts center and do your martial arts training. You can fly an instructor in from Europe to help radicalize the group. The whole group can be trained and radicalized with the government looking on but not able to do anything because the group hasn't done anything illegal."

According to a NEFA analysis of case documents, the Fort Dix plotters conducted tactical training in the Pocono Mountains, trained at a firing range in Gouldsboro, Pa., and emulated the Army's paintball-training method in preparation for jihad.

Now, with three years' worth of new jihadist plots uncovered, U.S. officials still seem loath to link fundamentalist Islam with terror. So much so that warnings to Maj. Nadal Hasan's superiors about his increasingly radical pronouncements went unheeded. And before families of the Fort Hood fallen could weep for their slain loved ones, the Obama administration warned against "backlash" against Muslims. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey opined that a loss of diversity in the military would be "worse" than the mass murder of American soldiers on U.S. soil.

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