Homegrown terrorists with clean records can operate under the radar of law enforcement and pose a more significant threat to homeland security than al Qaeda, says a report issued yesterday by the New York City Police Department.
The report lists “incubators” such as mosques that become meeting places for homegrown terrorists, but says more likely places include cafes, cabstands, flophouses, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and bookstores.
“The Internet, with its thousands of extremist websites and chat-rooms, is a virtual incubator of its own. In fact, many of the extremists began their radical conversion while researching or just surfing in the cyber world,” the report said.
“Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat” was written for the department by several security analysts and is based on an analysis of plots uncovered in Lackawanna, N.Y., Portland, Ore., Virginia, Madrid, Toronto, and Hamburg, Germany.
“Other than some commonalities in age and religion, individuals undergoing radicalization appear as ‘ordinary’ citizens, who look, act, talk, and walk like everyone around them,” the report said.
“In the United Kingdom, it is precisely those ‘ordinary’ middle class university students who are sought after by local extremists because they are ‘clean skins,’ ” the report said.
“The individuals are not on the law enforcement radar. Most have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble,” the report said.
Although al Qaeda inspires “homegrown radicalization and terrorism,” the control or command of a terrorist attack by al Qaeda “has been the exception, rather than the rule,” among a dozen operations studied for the report, it says.
“In the early stages of their radicalization, these individuals rarely travel, are not participating in any kind of militant activity, yet they are slowly building the mindset, intention, and commitment to conduct jihad,” the report said.
Terrorist plotters act autonomously and radicalize quickly, and the cells are made up of people who appear to be well-integrated into society.
The challenge for law enforcement is how to identify and pre-empt recruitment and the process of radicalization, said the report, which is meant to guide the intelligence community as well.
Before the September 11 attacks, terrorists organized beyond the nation’s borders, but U.S. attacks on training camps in Afghanistan disrupted and “significantly diminished” those threats.
As al Qaeda’s central core of leaders, operatives and foot soldiers shrank, “its philosophy of global jihad spread worldwide at an exponential rate via radical Internet websites and chat rooms, extremist videotapes and literature, radical speeches by extremist imams — often creating a radical subculture within the more vulnerable Muslim diaspora communities,” the report said.
“This post-September 11 wave of militant ideological influences underpins radicalization in the West and is what we define as the homegrown threat,” the report said.
Kareem Shora, legal adviser for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told ABC News that the report is faulty and potentially inflammatory. “It plays right into the extremists’ plans because it’s going to end up angering the community,” he said.