Homegrown terrorism

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Homegrown terrorism or domestic terrorism is commonly associated with violent acts committed by citizens or permanent residents of a state against their own people or property within that state in effort to instill fear on a population or government as a tactic designed to advance political, religious, or ideological objectives.[1]


The definition of homegrown terrorism includes what is normally considered domestic terrorism. Since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the term has often been applied to violence that is perpetrated against people or property by their own citizens or permanent residents of a state under jurisdiction of that state in order to promote political, religious, or ideological objectives. Domestic terrorists have identical, or nearly so, means of militarily and ideologically carrying on their fight without necessarily having a centralized command structure regardless of whether the source of inspiration is domestic, foreign, or transnational.[2]

The Congressional Research Service report, American Jihadist Terrorism: Combatting a Complex Threat, describes homegrown terrorism as a “terrorist activity or plots perpetuated within the United States or abroad by American citizens, permanent legal residents, or visitors radicalized largely within the United States.”[3]

Under the 2001 USA Patriot Act, domestic terrorism is defined as "activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S."

Recent trends[edit]

Homegrown or imported terrorism is not new to the United States or Europe. The United States has uncovered a number of alleged terrorist plots that have been successfully suppressed through domestic intelligence and law enforcement. The United States has begun to account for the threat of homegrown terrorism, as shown by increased volume of literature on the subject in recent years and increased number of terrorist websites since Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, began posting beheading videos in 2003. A July 2009 document by the FBI estimated that there were roughly 15,000 websites and web forums that support terrorist activities, with around 10,000 of them actively maintained. 80% of these sites are on U.S.-based servers.[4]

According to the Congressional Research Service’s study, American Jihadist Terrorism: Combatting a Complex Threat, between May 2009 and November 2010, law enforcement made arrests related to 22 homegrown jihadist-inspired terror plots by American citizens or legal residents of the U.S. This is a significant increase over the 21 plots caught in the seven interim years after the September 11, 2001 attacks. During these seven years, two plots resulted in attacks, compared to the two attacks between May 2009 and November 2010, which resulted in 14 deaths. This spike post-May 2009 shows that some Americans are susceptible to ideologies that support a violent form of jihad.[3][5]

Roughly one-quarter of these plots have been linked to major international terrorist groups but an increasing number of Americans holding high-level operational roles in these terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.[sentence fragment][5][6][7] The former CIA Director Michael Hayden called homegrown terrorism the more serious threat faced by American citizens today.[8]

The UK, likewise, considers homegrown terrorism to be a considerable threat. On June 6, 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a wide-ranging strategy to prevent British citizens from being radicalized into becoming terrorists while at university. The strategy is intended to prevent extremist speakers or groups from coming to universities.[9]

Appeal for international organizations[edit]

Homegrown terrorists have an advantage in that they face fewer logistical problems, such as entering the target nation, as well as familiarity with society and customs, and greater ease in identifying targets. This makes them valuable assets to international terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda recognizes the value of native citizens and has tried to encourage operations toward homegrown terrorism, according to al-Qaeda’s U.S.-born spokesperson, Adam Gadahn.[1] This new strategy focuses on inspiring American-Muslims to become one-man terrorist cells.[10]

Dispatching less experienced recruits decreases the amount of time that they have to be identified and detected by law enforcement. Some potential jihadists, such as the perpetrators of the July 7, 2005 underground bombings in London, stopped attending services at their mosques, as they were believed to be under surveillance.[11]

Low-level members provide a low-cost option for terrorist organizations that are meant to consume the attention of law enforcement and intelligence organizations in the hope that one will succeed, or a greater operation may go unnoticed. Additionally, democracies are challenged in handling internal dissent, such as terrorism. Hayden frames the problem facing democracies, "how do you build a security structure that guards you against American citizens who are beginning to change in their thinking up to a point where they become a threat to the security of other Americans? That’s a devil of a problem” because the next step that intelligence communities would take would be to infringe on the privacy of Americans.[8]

Terrorism is a relatively inexpensive proposition for organizations. The minimal cost of orchestrating an operation means that foreign terrorist groups will likely continue to regard U.S. homeland operations as both desirable and a financially feasible option. Even failed plots, such as the Times Square bombing plot, can still pay vast dividends in terms of publicity and attention.[6]


There is no one path toward violence. Homegrown terrorists have been high school dropouts, college graduates, members of the military, and cover the range of financial situations. Recent research by Matt Qvortrup in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations has suggested that domestic terrorism is a result of lack of opportunities for meaningful political engagement, and that domestic terrorism could be reduced by introducing constitutional changes such as changes in the electoral system that increase the chances that minority groups can become represented. This remains controversial. Some domestic terrorists studied overseas and were exposed to radical Islamist thought, while others took their inspiration from the internet.[10]

Marc Sageman writes in his book, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century that, contrary to popular belief, radicalization into terrorism is not the product of poverty, various forms of brainwashing, youth, ignorance, lack of education, lack of employment, lack of social responsibility, criminality, or mental illness.[12] He says that intermediaries and English-speaking imams, such as the late American-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (d. 2011), who are often found through the internet on forums, provide key roles in the radicalization process. Social networks provided in forums support and build upon an individual’s radical beliefs. Prison systems are also a concern as a place of radicalization and jihadist recruiting; nearly three dozen ex-convicts who attended training camps in Yemen were believed to have been radicalized in prison.[5] The only constant appears to be

"a newfound hatred for their native or adopted country, a degree of dangerous malleability, and a religious fervor justifying or legitimizing violence that impels these very impressionable and perhaps easily influenced individuals toward potentially lethal acts of violence," according to Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman's September 2010 paper for the Bipartisan Policy Center.[6]

Commonalities shared[edit]

This does not account for all homegrown Islamist terrorists, but many of the elements identified below are common to documented homegrown terrorists:

  • Male Muslims
    • While women are increasingly becoming involved with jihadi groups; to date, Western-based radicalized women have primarily acted in a support role
  • Under the age of 35
  • Local residents and citizens of Western countries.
  • Varied ethnic backgrounds, but often are second or third generation immigrants' children.
  • Middle-class backgrounds; not economically destitute
  • Educated; at least high school graduates, if not university students
  • Recent converts to Islam are particularly vulnerable
  • Do not begin as radical or devout Muslims
  • “Unremarkable” – having “ordinary” lives and jobs
  • Little, if any, criminal history[13]

Phases of radicalization[edit]

A number of studies assess the reasons for radicalization, including the NYPD’s “Radicalization in the West: The Threat of Homegrown Terrorism” and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman’s Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K.: An Empirical Examination of the Radicalization Process.

Both identify four phases, which begins with

  • pre-radicalization, the period prior to the individual showing any inclination toward extremist Islam.
  • Next is the self-identification phase, during which time individuals are influenced by internal and external factors and begin exploring extremist sects of Islam (predominantly Salafi). They gravitate from their old identity towards individuals with more extreme ideological beliefs as they adopt this ideology as their own. “The catalyst for this ‘religious seeking’ is a cognitive opening, or crisis, which shakes one’s certitude in previously held beliefs.”
  • Indoctrination follows, during which time the individual focuses time and attention on his faith and spends greater amounts of time with like-minded individuals as a means of strengthening beliefs. Increased use of the internet is common to this phase, as it provides a means to connect to others and learn more about Islam.
  • The last stage, jihadization, begins an individual’s journey as a self-professed mujahedeen. Operational planning and preparation go into planning the execution of a plot. A sign of an individual’s decision to commit jihad is their travelling abroad, most likely to a militant training camp. The leaders of the cells often go to receive training somewhere considered to be within the region containing extremism, predominantly Pakistan, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Yemen, or Somalia.[14]

Unlike the radicalization process in the Middle East, which is often triggered by oppression, suffering, a wish for revenge or desperation, Western radicalization is often triggered by a need for identity and path or cause towards which an individual may work as a means of strengthening his identity. Individuals seek a sense of purpose and a way to make his voice heard in a larger context, especially if he feels marginalized.

Reasons for radicalization[edit]

These catalysts include:[15]

  • Economic- losing a job, blocked mobility
  • Social- real or perceived alienation, discrimination, racism
  • Political- international conflicts involving Muslims to which an individual relates and internalizes as a shared struggle
  • Personal- death in the close family

The first two catalysts are the most prevalent issues in Western Europe, as second and third-generation Muslims are not all well integrated into European society. Living between the society and practices of their country of origin and secular European society, while not belonging to either, individuals may create an identity by adopting a more radical form of Islam. Additionally, the internal conflict between Islam and secular Europe makes individuals vulnerable, providing a means for radical Islam to recruit members. Second and third-generation Muslims in the U.S. are less susceptible to radical Islam as the U.S. is not as firm in its secularity. But, one’s religious roots and cultural identity sometimes takes precedence over assimilation into American society.[16]


Training for potential homegrown terrorists is often very fast paced, or rushed, as some groups under attack by U.S. forces may feel the need to implement operations “more precipitously than they might otherwise occur,” according to Bruce Hoffman. This was the case with the Times Square plot carried out by Faisal Shazad. Tehrik-i-Taliban or Pakistani Taliban (TPP) was on record as providing financing and four months of training for Shazad directly prior to his actions in Times Square. Shazad reportedly received only three to five days of training in bomb-making.

Some individuals go abroad to a region containing extremism, predominantly Pakistan, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir,Yemen or Somalia. In the case of the London Underground bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, the operational leader of the cell, received military and explosives training at a camp in Malakand, Pakistan in July 2003. Later he took Shezad Tanweer to Karachi, Pakistan, in late 2004 to February 2005 where they crossed the border to receive training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.[17]

Training and usage of recruits is varied. Some, such as Shahzad, received little training and ultimately failed in their goals. Others, like the sleeper agent David Headley’s reconnaissance efforts, were essential towards Lashkar-e-Toiba’s (LeT) success in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Scholars say that some lone wolves may achieve objectives, but the vast majority of individual operators fail to execute their plans because of lack of training and planning. There is also a question as to whether such individuals are radical, or suffering other problems. The American convert, Abdulhakim Muhammad (née Carlos Bledsoe), who killed a U.S. military recruiter in Little Rock, Arkansas, and wounded another, had many other targets and plans, which went awry. It was not until some time after his arrest that he first claimed to have been working for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But, investigators found no evidence of this. The lead county prosecutor said that, aside from Muhammad's self-serving statements, it was "just an awful killing", like others he had seen.[18] Bledsoe's father described his son as "unable to process reality."[19] He was charged with capital murder and related charges, not terrorism, and pled guilty.

The American Nidal Malik Hasan, the US Army major and psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, had come to the attention of colleagues and superiors years before the shootings; they documented their concerns about his mental state. The Department of Defense has classified the event as "workplace violence" rather than terrorism, pending Hasan's court martial. Some observers believe that his personal characteristics are more like those of other mass murderers than terrorists; he did not belong to any group.

The Somalian Al-Shabab (“the youth”) have recruited strongly in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The 30+ Somali-Americans received training by senior al-Qaeda leaders in Somalia. Hoffman believes this indicates that radicalization and recruitment is not an isolated, lone-wolf phenomenon unique to Somali-Americans, but that there is terrorist recruitment infrastructure in the United States.[20] After more than a dozen of 20 American recruits were killed in fighting in Somalia, the number of Americans going to join Al-Shabab has declined since 2007-2008.[21]


Disadvantages faced by potential homegrown terrorists are related to their distance from the Middle East, leaving them still relatively isolated. Their operations are somewhat more ad-hoc and may lack comparable financial backing, training, support network, and specialized expertise that may be found in more centralized members of international organizations, as detailed in the previous section. These shortcomings may limit homegrown terrorists from successfully engaging in independent, large-scale attacks, preferring acts that require less preparation, such as Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s November 5, 2009 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base which killed 13 and wounded 30.

Role of the internet[edit]

“The Internet is a driver and enabler for the process of radicalization”, says a report of the Police Department of the City of New York of 2007.[22] The internet has a wide appeal as it provides an anonymous way for like-minded, conflicted individuals can meet, form virtual relations, and discuss the radical and extremist ideology they encounter. The virtual network created in message boards or private forums further radicalizes and cements the jihadi-Salafi message individuals have encountered as they build a community. The internet acts as an enabler, providing the aspiring jihadist with a forum in which they may plan, share information on targets, weapons, and recruit others into their plans. Much of the resources needed to make weapons can be found on-line.[22]


Inspire is an online English-language magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Purported to be created by Samir Khan, a U.S. citizen and cyber-jihadist, the magazine uses American idioms and phrasing and does not appear to have British or South Asian influences in its language.[23]

The magazine contains messages calling for western jihadists, like this one from AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi, "to acquire weapons and learn methods of war. They are living in a place where they can cause great harm to the enemy and where they can support the Messenger of Allah... The means of harming them are many so seek assistance from Allah and do not be weak and you will find a way.”[23]

STRATFOR suggests that the magazine is meant to help acquaint English-speaking individuals with what to expect when traveling to jihadist training camps in the Middle East. This is the result of reports of Westerners who have gone to these camps and have not had positive experiences during the process. These articles are also designed to decrease shock and depression that may occur and recommends bringing a friend to reduce the loneliness of the new environment and learning the local language.[23]



  • Operation Pendennis: Melbourne & Sydney, November 2005.

Though the prosecution did not convict all men charged in Melbourne and Sydney, it forestalled a planned bombing attack.[24]




The Hamburg terror cell was found to have played a major role in planning the 9/11 attacks in the United States.



A right-wing extremist who spoke against Islam and immigration, Anders Behring Breivik was responsible for a car bomb explosion that killed 8 in Oslo and killing 69 at a summer camp on the island of Utøya.



United Kingdom

United States

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bill Durodié, Home-Grown Nihilism: The Clash within Civilisations,[29] February, 2008
  • Jerome P. Bjelopera and Mark A. Randol, American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat,[30] September 20, 2010.
  • Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson, Analysis: The spread of U.S. homegrown terrorism,[31] May 11, 2010
  • National Counterterrorism Center[32]
  • Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, Homegrown Terrorism Fact Sheet,[33] January 22, 2010


  1. ^ a b "Abu Khawla, "Understanding Homegrown Terrorism," The American Thinker December 12, 2010, Accessed April 9, 2011". Americanthinker.com. 2013-01-13. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  2. ^ "Alejandro J. Beutel, ''Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in Western Muslim Communities: Lessons Learned for America,'' (Minaret of Freedom Institute: August 2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  3. ^ a b "p. 1. - Jerome P. Bjelopera and Mark A. Randol, ''American Jihadist Terrorism: Combatting a Complex Threat,'' (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, December 7, 2010)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  4. ^ "Jason Ryan, Pierre Thomas, and Xorje Olivares, "American-bred Terrorism Causing Alarm for Law Enforcement," ABC News.com July 22, 2010". Abcnews.go.com. 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  5. ^ a b c "Toni Johnson, "Threat of Homegrown Islamist Terrorism," Council on Foreign Relations, December 10, 2010". Cfr.org. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  6. ^ a b c "Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, "Assessing the Terrorist Threat," Bipartisan Policy Center, September 10, 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  7. ^ Brian Michael Jenkins, "Terrorist Radicalization in the United States Since September 11, 2001," RAND Corporation, 2010
  8. ^ a b Yager, Jordy (2010-07-25). "Jordy Yager, "Former intel chief: Homegrown terrorism is a ‘devil of a problem,’" ''The Hill'', July 25, 2010". Thehill.com. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  9. ^ "Brendan Carlin and Abul Taher, "Cameron plans to crack down on home-grown terrorism," gulfnews.com, June 6, 2011". Gulfnews.com. 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  10. ^ a b "Associated Press, "Congressional Panel on Homegrown Terrorism Divided on Discussion," March 10, 2011". Tennessean.com. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  11. ^ "p. 36, 40 - New York Police Department, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," (2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  12. ^ Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, (Philadelphia, PA: University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)
  13. ^ "p. 23 - New York Police Department, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," (2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  14. ^ "p. 22-45 - New York Police Department, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," (2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  15. ^ "Home grown western terrorists are new threat to India". The Hindu (India). 12 November 2012. 
  16. ^ "p. 30 - New York Police Department, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," (2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  17. ^ p. 33 - Edward McLeskey, Diana McCord, and Jennifer Leetz, “Underlying Reasons for the Success and Failure of Terrorist Attacks.” (Arlington, VA: Homeland Security Institute, June 2007)[dead link]
  18. ^ Dao, James (February 16, 2010). "A Muslim Son, a Murder Trial and Many Questions". Arkansas;Yemen: The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2010. 
  19. ^ Dao, James (January 21, 2010). "Man Claims Terror Ties in Little Rock Shooting". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010. Retrieved January 22, 2010. 
  20. ^ Hoffman, Bruce, “Internet Terror Recruitment And Tradecraft: How Can We Address An Evolving Tool While Protecting Free Speech?,” House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, May 26, 2010
  21. ^ Schmitt, Eric (June 6, 2010). "Al Shabab Recruits Americans for Somali Civil War". The New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2010. 
  22. ^ a b ""Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat." (New York Police Department, 2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 23 November 2014.  (pages 8-9)
  23. ^ a b c Security Weekly. "Scott Stewart, "Fanning the Flames of Jihad." STRATFOR (July 22, 2010)". Stratfor.com. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  24. ^ Karen Kissane. "Karen Kissane, "Tip-off led to intense 16-month investigation," The Age, September 17, 2008". Melbourne: Theage.com.au. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  25. ^ (AFP) – Mar 9, 2010 (March 9, 2010). "AFP: US 'JihadJane' recruited for Europe, SAsia attacks: charges". Google.com. Retrieved April 3, 2010. 
  26. ^ http://www.justice.gov/usao/pae/News/Pr/2010/apr/paulin_indictment.pdf
  27. ^ Alicia A. Caldwell (October 27, 2010). "Alicia A. Caldwell, "Farooque Ahmed Arrested for Plotting DC Terrorist Attack," Huffington Post, October 27, 2010". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  28. ^ "Self radicalized American incited violent Jihad online". Fbi.gov. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  29. ^ http://www.da.mod.uk/colleges/arag/document-listings/journal-downloads/defac_journal_nihilism.pdf
  30. ^ http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/148788.pdf
  31. ^ Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson, CNN (May 13, 2010). "Analysis: The spread of U.S. homegrown terrorism - CNN.com". Articles.cnn.com. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  32. ^ nctc.gov
  33. ^ "Homegrown Terrorism Fact Sheet | Center for Strategic and International Studies". Csis.org. Retrieved 2013-07-19.