Reports are released every day in Washington, but one that could prove to be of life-or-death importance was unveiled last week by the Henry Jackson Society, a bipartisan think tank with headquarters in London. “Al-Qaeda in the United States: A Complete Analysis of Terrorism Offenses” holds up a mirror to America and provides us with a clear but terrifying image.
The report is more than 700 pages, and is a painstaking and meticulous review of all 171 al Qaeda or al Qaeda-inspired terrorists who were either killed during their attacks or convicted in court in the U.S.
Authored by research fellow Robin Simcox, the value of the data as a means of protecting Americans is underscored by the fact that the foreword was penned by Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who has led the CIA and the National Security Agency.
The excellent report challenges the post-Sept. 11 conventional wisdom about who al Qaeda terrorists were — and are. It reveals that the bulk of the terrorists in the U.S. are not highly trained foreign nationals infiltrating our borders to attack us, but our neighbors next door.
More than half of the terrorists were American citizens. A shocking 82 percent of the terrorists killed or convicted were U.S. residents. Ninety-five percent were men, and they lived in states from coast to coast and across the heartland. The highest numbers came from New York, Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota and California.
Another remarkable data point is that 52 percent of the attackers were college-educated and nearly 60 percent were either pursuing education or were employed at the time of their arrests. These facts punch gaping holes into the self-defeating assertion that those who hate America are driven to terrorism because they are ignorant or downtrodden. As Mr. Simcox explained when I interviewed him recently, these people were not failed by our society; they were a part of it.
An inordinate number of the al Qaeda terrorists were not born into radical Islam but embraced it later in life with the fervor of converts. Religious converts have made up 24 percent of all the terrorists, and 95 percent of those converts were U.S. citizens such as John Walker Lindh, who pleaded guilty to assisting the Taliban.
One of the most striking things about this thorough study is how rigorously it steers clear of making policy recommendations. It provides the facts, and it is now up to those charged with developing our counterterrorism and homeland security strategies to decide how best to use this information.
After all, safeguarding our citizens is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. It’s not a left-wing or right-wing issue. It needs to be an American priority.
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By Elaine Donnelly
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