With another terrorist attack striking Britain as the United Kingdom was still in shock over a suicide bomber targeting teens in Manchester, heads of state once again declared solidarity with the targeted nation and vowed to stomp out the insidious terror threat. “As president, I will do what is necessary is to prevent this threat from spreading to our shores,” President Trump said after the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks.
But with terrorist after terrorist striking the country where they were born or raised, that strategy must begin on the inside. Our greatest threat is not a ship-to-shore phenomenon. It’s not lurking out there, trying to sneak in. It’s already here. The sooner we get out of the rut of thinking that terror is an import, the sooner we acknowledge it’s cultivated on our home soil, the better chance we have of successfully fighting it.
We face the stay-at-home terrorist who doesn’t need a radical imam at the corner mosque, extremist parents or wayward friends to get on the path of jihad. As a former friend of one of the London Bridge attackers told United Kingdom media, all it apparently took was jihad-justification YouTube videos from American preacher Ahmad Musa Jibril.
The stay-at-home terrorist is created by incitement, recruiting and training materials that know no borders, seeping in through the internet, social media and the dark web. This is the universal jihadi, schooled on ISIS magazines, al Qaeda lectures, Taliban op-eds and al-Shabab videos. Even if they claim allegiance to one group, their journey from zero to terrorist has been molded through a collective effort.
The stay-at-home terrorist may be a recruit preyed on for his vulnerability and reeled in, much like street gangs pull new members into their orbit and turn them into attackers and recruiters. Varied backgrounds and reasons for their ultimate seduction into jihad can make them even more difficult to pinpoint and stop.
The stay-at-home terrorist usually shows a change in religious observance that’s obvious to those around them, but he or she also isn’t subject to Islamic purity tests — things like drinking, drugs, smoking, womanizing conveniently getting a pass — from the recruiting terror groups that will take anyone willing to kill.
The stay-at-home terrorist can be hooked in so many ways by terror groups whose online strategies are impressively adaptive. The Taliban who once reveled in their Stone Age rule now operate a video studio and an English-language jihad website. Rolling with the news cycle, al Qaeda’s al-Nafir Bulletin delivers quick-hit justifications for Westerners to strike their home turf.
ISIS’ Rumiyah magazine publishes monthly terror tactic tutorials from arson to truck rammings to pouncing on victims taking a late-night stroll. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula recently launched Inspire video addresses from 39-year-old leader Qasim al-Raymi, lectures dangerous not just for their content but for al-Raymi’s conversational delivery.
“We do not view you as an individual — even though it is referred to as individual jihad. We rather view you as a group, a brigade, or even an army in itself,” al-Raymi said in a May video. “Don’t complicate matters, take it easy and simple, the same as our brother [Orlando shooter] Omar Mateen did.”
The best line of defense against the stay-at-home terrorist is the friend concerned that their one-time gym-rat pal is now raving about the brilliance of Anwar al-Awlaki, the relative who sees his kin trying to rent a moving truck when nobody’s moving or, as reportedly happened in the London attack, the neighbor who called police when a guy was trying to woo and radicalize local children in the park.
People who saw something and said something before attacks report ad naseum that their calls seemed to vanish into a counterterrorism black hole. Stay-at-home terrorists are members of the community, known as students, shop workers, security guards and more before they decided to kill. Overextended authorities prioritize these suspects by anticipated risk, but must listen to those closest to the red flags as the next terrorists are, again, created right here at home.
• Bridget Johnson is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and D.C. bureau chief for PJ Media.