Domestic terrorism

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Timothy McVeigh, who perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 that killed 168 people, including 19 children.

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 without foreign influence in an 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 September 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. Security analysts have argued that after the end of the Cold war, military conflicts have increasingly involved violent non-state actors carrying out asymmetric warfare,[4] of which terror attacks are one part.[5] 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.[6]

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 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][7]

Roughly one-quarter of these plots have been linked to major international terrorist groups but an increasing number of Americans are holding high-level operational roles in these terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.[7][8][9] The former CIA Director Michael Hayden called homegrown terrorism the more serious threat faced by American citizens today.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[10]

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.[8]


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.[12]

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.[14] 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.[7] 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.[8]


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,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.[15]

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.[16] Bledsoe's father described his son as "unable to process reality."[17] He was charged with capital murder and related charges, not terrorism, and pleaded guilty.

The American Nidal Malik Hasan, the US Army major and psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, 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.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20] The internet has a wide appeal as it provides an anonymous way for like-minded, conflicted individuals to 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.[20]


Inspire is an online English-language propaganda 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.[21]

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.”[21]

STRATFOR suggests that the magazine is meant to "fan the flames of Jihad."[21]


  • 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.[22]


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,[33] February, 2008
  • Jerome P. Bjelopera and Mark A. Randol, American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat,[34] September 20, 2010.
  • Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson, Analysis: The spread of U.S. homegrown terrorism,[35] May 11, 2010
  • National Counterterrorism Center[36]
  • Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, Homegrown Terrorism Fact Sheet,[37] January 22, 2010


  1. ^ a b "Abu Khawla, "Understanding Homegrown Terrorism," The American Thinker December 12, 2010, Accessed April 9, 2011". 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. ^ "Non-State Conflict and the Transformation of War". E-International Relations. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Jason Ryan, Pierre Thomas, and Xorje Olivares, "American-bred Terrorism Causing Alarm for Law Enforcement," ABC July 22, 2010". 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  7. ^ a b c "Toni Johnson, "Threat of Homegrown Islamist Terrorism," Council on Foreign Relations, December 10, 2010". Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  8. ^ a b c "Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, "Assessing the Terrorist Threat," Bipartisan Policy Center, September 10, 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  9. ^ Brian Michael Jenkins, "Terrorist Radicalization in the United States Since September 11, 2001," RAND Corporation, 2010
  10. ^ 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". Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  11. ^ "Brendan Carlin and Abul Taher, "Cameron plans to crack down on home-grown terrorism,", June 6, 2011". 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  12. ^ a b "Associated Press, "Congressional Panel on Homegrown Terrorism Divided on Discussion," March 10, 2011". Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  13. ^ "p. 36, 40 - New York Police Department, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," (2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  14. ^ Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, (Philadelphia, PA: University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)
  15. ^ 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) Archived July 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Dao, James (February 16, 2010). "A Muslim Son, a Murder Trial and Many Questions". Arkansas;Yemen: The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2010. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Schmitt, Eric (June 6, 2010). "Al Shabab Recruits Americans for Somali Civil War". The New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b ""Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat." (New York Police Department, 2007)" (PDF). Retrieved 23 November 2014.  (pages 8-9)
  21. ^ a b c Security Weekly. "Scott Stewart, "Fanning the Flames of Jihad." STRATFOR (July 22, 2010)". Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  22. ^ Karen Kissane. "Karen Kissane, "Tip-off led to intense 16-month investigation," The Age, September 17, 2008". Melbourne: Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  23. ^ 2002 Los Angeles International Airport shooting
  24. ^ Sniper reportedly details 4 new shootings". AP. June 16, 2006. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007.
  25. ^
  26. ^ (AFP) – Mar 9, 2010 (March 9, 2010). "AFP: US 'JihadJane' recruited for Europe, SAsia attacks: charges". Retrieved April 3, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-08-30. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  28. ^ Suspicious car leads to closure of Times Square". CNN. May 2, 2010. Archived from the original on May 2, 2010. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  29. ^ Alicia A. Caldwell (October 27, 2010). "Alicia A. Caldwell, "Farooque Ahmed Arrested for Plotting DC Terrorist Attack," Huffington Post, October 27, 2010". Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  30. ^ Associated Press (November 27, 2010). Somali-born teen nabbed in Oregon bomb plot. USA Today
  31. ^ "Self radicalized American incited violent Jihad online". Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Home-Grown Nihilism: The Clash within Civilisations". Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson, CNN (May 13, 2010). "Analysis: The spread of U.S. homegrown terrorism -". Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  36. ^ "National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)". 
  37. ^ "Homegrown Terrorism Fact Sheet | Center for Strategic and International Studies". Retrieved 2013-07-19.