The U.S. was slow to take seriously the threat posed by home-grown radicals, and the government has failed to put systems in place to deal with the growing phenomenon, according to a recent report compiled by the former heads of the Sept. 11 commission.
The report says U.S. authorities failed to realize that Somali-American youths traveling from Minnesota to Mogadishu in 2008 to join extremists was not an isolated issue. Instead, the movement was one among several instances of a broader, more diverse threat that has surfaced across the country.
"Our long-held belief that homegrown terrorism couldn't happen here has thus created a situation where we are today stumbling blindly through the legal, operational and organizational minefield of countering terrorist radicalization and recruitment occurring in the United States," said the report, which was obtained by the Associated Press.
As a result, there is still no federal agency specifically charged with identifying radicalization or working to prevent terrorist recruitment of U.S. citizens and residents, said the report, released by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Preparedness Group.
The group, headed by former 9/11 commission leaders Thomas H. Kean and Lee Hamilton, laid out a detailed description of domestic terrorism incidents ranging from the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting spree and the attempted Christmas Day airliner attack in late 2009 to last May's botched car bombing in New York's Times Square.
Over the past year, terrorism experts and government officials have warned of the threat posed by homegrown radicals, saying terrorist recruits who go abroad could return to the U.S. to carry out attacks.
But the U.S., the group said, should have learned earlier from Britain's experience. Before the 2005 London suicide bombings, the British thought that Muslims there were better integrated, educated and wealthier than their counterparts elsewhere.
Similarly, the U.S. thought that its melting pot of nationalities and religions would protect it from internal radical strife, the report said.
The terrorists, said the report, may have discovered America's "Achilles' heel, in that we currently have no strategy to counter the type of threat posed by homegrown terrorists and other radicalized recruits."
U.S. officials have acknowledged the need to address the radicalization problem, and for the first time, the White House this year added combating homegrown terrorism to its national security strategy.
The National Counterterrorism Center and a National Security Council interagency group of representatives from 13 federal agencies and offices have taken the lead in looking at ways to counter violent extremism within the U.S. and abroad, Denis McDonough, the chief of staff of the president's National Security Council, said in an interview with the Associated Press in June.
The effort includes officials from the departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice and State.
The administration's response includes a "new interagency effort that brings together key stakeholders" and continued "outreach to communities across the country," said Ben Rhodes, the White House's deputy national security adviser.
The FBI, meanwhile, has worked to reach out to the Somali communities, in an effort to counter the radicalization of the youth.
The report also points to an "Americanization" of the leadership of al Qaeda and its allied groups, noting that radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had links with suspects in the failed Times Square bombing and the Fort Hood shootings, grew up in New Mexico. And Chicagoan David Headley played a role in scoping the targets for the Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks on Mumbai in late 2008 that killed 166 people.
Abroad, al Qaeda, its affiliates and other extremist groups have splintered and spread, seeking safe havens in undergoverned areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and places in North Africa and East Africa. That diversified threat has intensified as militants reach out to potential recruits through the Internet.
Assessing future threats, the report lists potential future domestic targets, including passenger jets, western or American hotel chains, Jewish or Israeli sites and U.S. troops, even at their own bases in America.
And it warns that it is no longer wise to think that American extremists will not resort to suicide bombings. As an example, they point to Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who has been charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 in last year's shootings at Fort Hood, saying he had written about suicide operations in e-mails, and that his attack appeared to be one.