Cases of jihadist radicalization inside the United States last year occurred at three times the rate of any year since 9-11, but the Muslim-American community has overwhelmingly remained immune to the jihadist message, a new report from RAND states.
There were 13 cases of jihadist radicalization inside the United States in 2009, a “marked increase” considering the average number of cases from 2002 to 2008 is four per year, writes RAND terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins. In between 9-11 and 2009, RAND counted 46 publicly reported cases of jihadist radicalization inside the United States involving 125 people indicted either in the United States or abroad. Overwhelmingly, the plots were disrupted by law enforcement before violence could occur and involved small conspiracies or lone wolves.
Last year was also the only one in which homegrown jihadism resulted in American deaths. In June, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, an African-American convert to Islam, shot two Army recruiters in Little Rock, Arkansas, killing one. Then in November, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan murdered 13 people—12 soldiers and 1 civilian—as well as 31 others during a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, authorities said.
Domestic jihadists have killed five-times fewer Americans than domestic terrorists did from 1970 to 1978, Jenkins notes. He acknowledges, however, that jihadists aim to kill more indiscriminately than previous domestic terrorist groups.
The small sample of individuals who have gone jihadi also defies easy profiling. Jenkins says that the 125 individuals indicted on terrorism charges are a diverse group, but there are some broad trends. All but two are men, and most are U.S. citizens. Their ages averaged from the late-20’s to the early 30’s. Of those indicted, individuals of Arab and South Asian descent were statistically overrepresented. Many began on the road to jihad on the Internet. But Jenkins also concludes that most individuals did not arrive at jihadism due primarily to religion. “We have no metric for measuring faith, but the attraction of the jihadists’ extremist ideology for these individuals appears to have had more to do with participating in action than with religious instruction,” he explains.
This recent uptick in jihadist plots, however, shouldn’t cause Americans to question the patriotism of Muslim Americans. “There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United States, and few more than 100 have joined jihad—about one out of every 30,000—suggesting an American Muslim population that remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence,” Jenkins writes. “A mistrust of American Muslims by other Americans seems misplaced.”
Such suspicion could also jeopardize law enforcement’s greatest tool to discovering and disrupting nascent jihadist plots against the United States: the Muslim-American population itself. “Relatives and friends are often more likely than the authorities to know when someone is turning dangerously radical and heading toward self-destruction,” Jenkins writes.
Last year, it was the family members of the “Pakistan Five” from Alexandria, VA
, who warned federal law enforcement of their young relatives’ desire to wage jihad after seeing a farewell video. The five young men were later arrested by Pakistani authorities and brought up on terrorism charges.
Incidents like these show that American jihadists cannot rely on community support to shield them from law enforcement. “They are not Mao’s guerrillas swimming in a friendly sea,” Jenkins says.
Nevertheless, if an unwarranted backlash occurs against Muslim Americans or law enforcement gets too aggressive, Jenkins fears, Muslim-Americans could be less willing to notify authorities of dangerous individuals in their midst.
The report, released last week, makes no reference to 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad’s failed attempt to detonate an SUV-bomb in Times Square May 1, another example of a naturalized American citizen turning to terrorism against his adopted homeland.
In a press release accompanying the report, Jenkins said the plot demonstrates once again that the threat of homegrown jihadist terrorism is real.