The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on September 22 that the number of terrorist plots against the U.S. is increasing. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are focusing on smaller but more frequent attacks that are harder to prevent and Westerners, including Americans, are being recruited for them. This change will make it easier for the enemy to unpredictably strike at “soft” targets at a time when the U.S. is already in a recession.
“[Plots against the homeland] have surpassed the number and pace of attacks during any year since 9/11,” Leitner said. He added that the threat is becoming “far more complex” and that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have an “increasing ability to provide training, guidance, and support for attacks against the U.S…” The tempo is increasing not only because of a switch in tactics but because of an increase in strength.
The effectiveness of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates is enhanced by the growing number of homegrown jihadists. The Obama Administration has privately concluded that the radicalization of Muslim-Americans is increasing. A study by the RAND Corporation concluded the same, documenting that 10 of the nearly 30 homegrown terrorist plots since 2001 occurred in 2009 alone. The study’s author attributes this rise to a “dramatic increase” in the jihadist presence on the Internet, especially of chat rooms and websites in English.
A review of 2009 and 2010 thus far shows the fruits of this evolving threat. On June 1, 2009, a Muslim convert carried out a shooting at a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas that killed one soldier. On November 5, Nidal Malik Hassan opened fire on his colleagues in the U.S. military at Fort Hood in Texas, killing 13. On Christmas Day, a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb in his underwear on an airliner as it landed in Detroit. And on May 5, 2010, Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. This does not even include the arrests of other Americans supporting terrorist groups or even actively planning attacks out.
Al-Qaeda’s affiliates have seen a sharp improvement in their ability to recruit Americans. In December 2009, five Americans from the northern Virginia and Washington D.C. area were arrested in Pakistan as they traveled to North Waziristan’s terrorist camps. The uncle to one of the recruits belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a group with links to Al-Qaeda and was allowing them to stay at his home when they were caught. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has recruited up to three dozen former convicts who converted to Islam and its American leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, is inspiring jihadists throughout the West.
Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, has recruited around 20 Somali-Americans in Minnesota and at least 14 Americans have been arrested or indicted for supporting the group. One of the writers for RevolutionMuslim.com, the radical American-Muslim website that threatened the lives of the creators of South Park for depicting Mohammed, was arrested in July for planning on joining the affiliate. Most recently on August 4, a man in Chicago was charged with planning to join the group’s ranks in Somalia. Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has also recruited Americans. A Texan who moved to Spain was arrested on September 28 for sending money to the terrorist group but subsequently released by the Spanish judge due to a lack of evidence. His passport was confiscated and he is required to report to the police on a daily basis.
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