Jihadis in America

The arrest on Feb. 17 of a 29-year-old Moroccan in Washington DC with plans to blow up the US Capitol is the latest supposedly terrifying incident in a jittery United States on the constant lookout for the legions of militant Islam come to kill citizens and attack the country’s institutions.

To much of Asia, the arrest of Amine El Khalifi looks suspiciously like entrapment. “These arrests do little to improve the US image in Asia while they preach to Asian nations about human rights,” said a Muslim friend in Kuala Lumpur. “I think even non-Muslim Asians acknowledge that America is out for Muslims.”

If anything, according to a Feb. 8 report by Charles Kurzman of the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina in the US, and titled Muslim Terrorism In the Decade Since 9/11, the arrest of Amine El Khalifi is actually emblematic of just how little such Islamic terrorist activity there is in the US. Most of it appears to have been committed by psychotics rather than sophisticated, well-trained Islamic revolutionaries, Kurzman writes.

Some of it looks suspiciously like law enforcement officials are often too eager to help supposed terrorists try to do their jobs. As has been widely reported, the fake bomb-laden vest and disabled automatic rifle El Khalifi was carrying were supplied to him by an FBI agent who helped him detonate a practice bomb in a quarry near his home.

According to Kurzman’s report, just 20 Muslim-Americans were indicted for alleged violent terrorist plots in 2011. It is in fact uncertain if some of them were actually Muslims. They include, for instance, Roger Stockham, a 63-year- grandfather and US Army veteran who was arrested after making threats in a bar about blowing up a Shia mosque in Dearborn, Michigan. After his arrest, police found a mass of M-80 fireworks in his car.

Emerson Begolly, 22, a former white supremacist who converted to Islam, was arrested for biting two FBI agents who were attempting to take him into custody on weapons charges after he used his computer to attempt to incite Islamic extremists into attacking police stations, synagogues and other facilities. Joseph Jeffrey Brice managed to blow his pants off testing explosives near a highway in Washington state as his girlfriend watched.

Jose Pimentel, a naturalized American citizen from the Dominican Republic, was arrested for allegedly attempting to build pipe bombs to attack US troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. After his arrest, according to one report, “information surfaced that the FBI had declined to get involved in the case because they thought Pimentel was mentally unstable and incapable of successfully executing the attack.” The Huffington Post reported that Pimentel had smoked marijuana with a New York Police Department informant and appeared to be under the influence when he made some of the incriminating statements that police recorded.

Jesse Curtis Morton, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Younus Abdullah Mohammad, was arrested and charged with posting online threats against the creators of the South Park television show and others whom he deemed enemies of Islam. In September, Agron Hasbajrami, an Albanian citizen living in Brooklyn, was arrested when he tried to get onto a plane for Istanbul, Turkey, after sending US$1,000 to a contact in Pakistan for the purpose of financing terrorist activities abroad. He told his contact that he wanted to “marry with the girls in paradise,” a common reference to dying as a martyr to take advantage of the 72 virgins in heaven promised to jihadis by the Prophet Mohammad. After some of his activities were discovered, a confidential FBI source contacted him and said he could assist him in finding a group to join.

“The number is not negligible,” Kurzman wrote. “Small numbers of Muslim-Americans continue to radicalize each year and plot violence.” However, the rate of radicalization “is far less than many feared in the aftermath of 9/11.” In early 2003, for example, Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told Congress that “FBI investigations have revealed militant Islamics [sic] in the US. We strongly suspect that several hundred of these extremists are linked to al-Qaeda.”

The scale of homegrown Muslim-American terrorism in 2011 does not appear to have corroborated the warnings issued by government officials early in the year, Kurzman writes. In March 2011, Mueller testified to Congress that this threat had become even more complex and difficult to combat, as “we are seeing an increase in the sources of terrorism, a wider array of terrorist targets, and an evolution in terrorist tactics and means of communication.”

With more than 2 million Muslims in the United States, that works out to one potential terrorist per 100,000, although taking a closer look at Kurzman’s list of 20, many of them appear to be deranged, disaffected or otherwise hopeless at the terrorist game. In fact, of the 20 cited, only one actually fired any shots at anything or anybody.

That was Yonathan Melaku, a former Marine reservist who pleaded guilty to firing shots at the Pentagon, the US Marine Corps museum in Quantico, Virgina, and four other military sites. All six of his attacks, some of which he taped from his car window, were made at night. No one was hit or hurt, although the military estimated the shots had done US$100,000 worth of damage.

The number of Muslim Americans indicted for plots fell from 26 in 2010. The total has averaged just under 20 per year since 9/11.

“Threats remain,” Kurzman’s report said. “Violent plots have not dwindled to zero, and revolutionary Islamist organizations overseas continue to call for Muslim-Americans to engage in violence. However, the number of Muslim-Americans who have responded to these calls continues to be tiny, when compared with the population of more than 2 million Muslims in the United States and when compared with the total level of violence in the United States, which was on track to register 14,000 murders in 2011.

According to FBI statistics for2010, there were also 1,409 hate crimes reported to law enforcement that were motivated by religious bias in the United States in 2010, 64.5 percent – almost two thirds – against Jews, 13.2 percent against Muslims, 17.6 percent against various other religions, and 3.3 percent against atheists.

There have been genuine threats and violence since 9/11, but only 12 have resulted in actual violence, according to the report. The 12 incidents resulted in 33 deaths, 29 of them in just four cases. The first involved John Allen Muhammad and a Jamaican youth, Lee Boyd Malvo, who became known as the Beltway Snipers in 2002, killing 11 people before they were caught. Muhammad has since been executed. The second major case involved a US Army psychiatrist who shot 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009 before being shot himself. Paralyzed from the chest down, he is awaiting trial. In the third incident, a 19-year-old dropout who was born in Bosnia-Herzogovina killed five people and wounded four more in a Salt Lake City shopping mall before he was taken out by a sniper. Although he shouted Allahu Akhbar God is Great) during the episode, he was characterized as a psychotic rather than a committed Muslim.

Muslim-Americans continued to be a source of initial tips alerting law-enforcement authorities to violent terrorist plots. Muslim-Americans turned in 2 of 14 individuals in 2011 whose initial tip could be identified, bringing the total to 52 of 140 since 9/11.

Support for Terrorism

In addition to the decline in violent plots, the number of Muslim-Americans indicted for support of terrorism -- financing, false statements, and other connections with terrorist plots and organizations, aside from violent plots -- fell from 27 individuals in 2010 to 8 in 2011, bringing the total to 462 since 9/11, the report said.

“Some of these cases seem somewhat removed from actual terrorist threats,” Kurzman writes. “For example, Zameer Nooralla Mohamedwas convicted for making a hoax call to the FBI claiming that four acquaintances, including an ex-girlfriend and a colleague who owed him money, were planning an attack. In other cases, the government may have chosen to prosecute a lesser crime rather than make terrorism-related intelligence public.

In cases where the connection to terrorism is publicly known, 151 individuals were prosecuted for financing terrorist plots or organizations; 12 individuals were accused of making false statements during terrorism investigations; and 43 individuals had other connections with terrorism, such as producing a video for a foreign terrorist organization, sending cassette tapes or raincoats to members of a terrorist organization, or personal associations with members of terrorist organizations.”