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Sunday, October 02, 2016

United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists

Guest Post by Jatin Desai 

Peter Bergen’s ‘United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists’ extensively deals with the terrorist threats to the United States of America. It is a lucid and well-researched book. It talks of how jihadi groups and individuals have become active since the attack on World Trade Centre and Pentagon on September 9 2001.

The numbers prove what he wants to convey. Since 9/11, more than three hundred Americans-born and raised in Minnesota, Alabama, New Jersey and elsewhere- have been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges. David Headley, an American was among those who planned the attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

The hard reality is Jihad was already waged in US much before 9/11. The World Trade Centre (WTC) was attacked for the first time in 1993. Six people died in the attack which was masterminded by Ramzi Yousef. He was trained in an al-Qaeda camp on the border of Afghanistan-Pakistan. At that time it was believed that militants would not attack US as often it served as a fund-raising base for various kinds of organizations. Following 9/11, it became amply clear that had FBI done a detailed investigation of Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan origin, and plot could have been averted. Moussaoui was attending flight school in Minnesota in 2001. He had received funds from Ramzi Binalshibh.

The author reveals the influence of Anwar al-Awalki’s, a US citizen, in the terrorist activities in the US. He was an online jihadi propagandist and then rose into a senior al-Qaeda operative in Yemen. Of the 330 Americans charged with or convicted of involvement in jihadist terrorist activity since the 9/11 attacks, more than 80 were found to have Awalki’s writings or sermons in their possession or cited him as an influence, and further seven had corresponded with him or travelled to Yemen to meet him. 

Awalki became popular among English-speaking radical Islamist. He was available to chat through his blog. Finally he was killed in a US drone strike in 2011. Some of the jihadist had gone to Yemen to meet Awalki.

Michael Silber studied eleven jihadist plots that had taken place in Europe, Australia, Canada and US after 9/11 in order to identify similarities. The majority of conspirators in all these terrorist plots, surprisingly, came from secular backgrounds, and none was the product of a madrassa. They were also not hotheads and they had no traumatic experience in their life. He was of the opinion that homegrown militants with few or no connection to groups as al-Qaeda represented the future of the terrorist threat. 

Such self-radicalised individuals are always difficult to detect. It is comparatively easy to identify some militants connected with some militant groups as they communicate with each other and group. In cases of radicalized individuals, it becomes difficult as the person act on his own and do not consult others.

Swati Pandey, a researcher at the New America Foundation and Bergen jointly examined the educational backgrounds of seventy-nine militants responsible for five worst terrorists attack in Western world. They found that more than half of the terrorists had attended college. These two studies expose the general impression that militants comes from poor and uneducated backgrounds.

The author gives details of few self-radicalized militants. Couples of them were youngsters who converted to Islam not long ago. The book gives details of al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Somalia’s al-Shabaab, Yemen’s Al-Qaeda’s branch al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Readers of this part of the world will be surprised to know that no al-Qaeda affiliates have recruited more Americans than al-Shabaab. The story of Omar Hammami from Alabama is interesting. He became a leader of al-Shabaab and also became targets of the same brutal organization. He was a visible face of al-Shabaab to the English speaking world like jihadi propagandist Awlaki. In Somalia, disputes emerged within militants and it led to the killing of Omar.

The details of David Coleman Headley’s are eye-opener. Headley is one of the masterminds of attacks on Mumba. Headley’s US passport and Caucasian look enabled him to plan the Mumbai attacks.

Author analyses that little less than half of the 330 militants examined for the book either travelled to an overseas field of jihad or attempted to do so. South Asia was the most attractive destination, with about a third travelled to or attempted to travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan to get in touch with Taliban or Al-Qaeda; a fifth volunteered to fight in Somalia and another quarter were drawn to the Syrian war.

He ends by saying US survived a terrible breach of national security on 9/11, but learnt from that and taken significant measures. These measures can ensure that such kind of major attacks is quite unlikely. But low-level threats will take many years before it ends.

The book is important for media persons, researchers and to those who are interested in understanding growth of militant organizations. Bergen gave details of number of militants. It shows how militants recruit youngsters and train them to become suicide bombers.

United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists
Author: Peter Bergen
Publisher: Crown Publishers, New York
Pages: 387

Price: US $ 28, Can $ 36

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