In light of the Attempted Times square Bombing, I thought you would find this analysis by Patrick Poole interesting. This analysis was originally published in MERIA Journal, which is edited by my friend Barry Rubin.
A great deal of study and analysis goes into the effect of U.S. foreign policy on the Middle East, but the issues and conflicts in the region also have an effect within the United States, which acts as an extension of those matters. With the dramatic developments of September 11, 2001, revolutionary movements and terrorism struck America directly. This article explores recent developments in that interaction by analyzing terrorist plans or attacks originating in the Middle East but being aimed at activities on U.S. soil. What is particularly striking is that 2009 was the year with the highest number of such incidents. Thus, while “September 11” is now a historic event from almost a decade ago, the strategic themes initiated then are continuing and even arguably intensifying.
When Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Muslim convert born Carlos Leon Bledsoe, pulled up to an Army-Navy Career Center in Little Rock, Arkansas in June 2009 and began opening fire at soldiers
standing outside with a SKS assault rifle, this “homegrown” jihadist’s path had already wound from Tennessee to Yemen, where his attorney later claimed he had been radicalized.
Army Private William Long was killed and Private Quinton Ezeagwula was seriously injured in Muhammad’s attack.
The year 2009 was simply without precedent in terms of the number of terror plots and cells exposed and disrupted directed at the United States. The Little Rock recruiting center shooting was just one of the many incidents last year where supposed “homegrown” terror had roots or ties to the Middle East. This international nexus to domestic terror plots or attacks directed at Western targets seen both recently and historically has been rule rather than the exception.
Even in cases of so-called “self-radicalization,” one sees the influence of recruitment videos produced by foreign terrorist organizations and the incendiary teachings of Islamic clerics overseas targeting Muslims in the West.
This was true in the case of Abdulhakim Muhammad, who told police after his attack on the Little Rock recruiting center “that he recently viewed a video pertaining to subversive activities which spurred him to commit this act.”
Yet the groundwork for Muhammad’s radicalization seems to have occurred long before watching the video that ultimately incited his attack. News reports indicate that he had traveled to Yemen in 2007 to attend a school known as a hub for radicalized Western converts, including “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.
The attempted bombing on Christmas Day (December 25) 2009 of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab bears some similarity to Muhammad’s case. While not a Westerner, he came from a wealthy Nigerian family and had attended an elite British international school in Togo and University College London. It was in London that Abdulmutallab was apparently radicalized, where he attended lectures by Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki at an East London mosque.
This connection to the U.S.-born al-Awlaki prompted him to enroll in a three-month language course at the al-Eman University in Sana’a, Yemen in 2005, where al-Awlaki taught until his 2006 arrest by Yemeni authorities. The university was founded by Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, a close ally and mentor of Usama bin Ladin and who is also designated as a global terrorist by the U.S. government.
Abdulmutallab later returned to Yemen in August 2009 to attend a language institute, but quickly dropped out and traveled to Shabwa Province, a stronghold of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), where he presumably was trained and tasked for his attempted Christmas Day airline bombing.
Al-Awlaki has also claimed to have been in contact with Fort Hood shooting suspect, Maj. Nidal Hasan, whom he had met while serving as an imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, before returning to Yemen.
In January 2010, another potential domestic terror threat coming out of Yemen was revealed in a report on al-Qa’ida published by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The report stated that as many as 36 former prison inmates from New York had moved to Yemen, like Abdulmutallab ostensibly to study Arabic or Islam, with some having dropped off the radar of U.S. intelligence agencies and possibly having connected with AQAP, where they could be training for future terror attacks.
The Senate report stated that the U.S. government was on heightened alert due to “the potential threat from extremists carrying American passports.”
AL-SHABAAB RECRUITMENT IN THE UNITED STATES
The same Senate Foreign Relations Committee report observed another potential domestic terror
threat from Somalia. Since November 2008, the FBI has been engaged in a massive counterterrorism investigation–one of the largest since the September 11 attacks–looking into recruitment in several Somali-American communities across the United States by the al-Qa’ida-linked Somali terror group, al-Shabaab. Media reports indicate that several dozen young Somali men have left the United States to travel to Somalia to join up with al-Shabaab.
As many as five of these Somali-Americans have been killed while fighting with al-Shabaab.
U.S. authorities are concerned that much like those “Afghan Arabs” who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s, helped shape the international Islamic terror networks during the 1990s, and now lead many Islamist terror groups (e.g. Osama bin Laden’s leadership of al-Qa’ida), so the young Somali men–mostly U.S. citizens–who have trained in al-Shabaab’s terror camps could easily return to the United States to engage in acts of terror.
The severity of this potential threat can be seen in the suicide bombing conducted by one Somali man from Minneapolis, Shirwa Ahmed. On October 29, 2008, Ahmed was one of two men to drive trucks laden with explosives into a government intelligence headquarters in the northern Somali city of Bosasso, killing 28 and injuring dozens more.
FBI Director Robert Mueller later claimed that Ahmed had been radicalized at a mosque in the United States, emphasizing that, “It raises the question of whether these young men will one day come home, and, if so, what might they undertake here.”
That potential threat was punctuated in September 2009 when another Somali man from Seattle, Omar Mohamud, drove a stolen U.N. car into an African Union peacekeeping base, detonating the explosives inside and killing 21 people.
Shirwa Ahmed and Omar Mohamud are the first known successful American suicide bombers. The prospect of dozens of al-Shabaab-trained operatives all armed with authentic U.S. passports rightfully raises serious concerns.
Yet how exactly was the connection between Somali-American communities and al-Shabaab operating in Somalia established? In late 2007, prior to the disappearances of these Somali men, the current author was the first to report on foreign officials tied to al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups that were traveling across the United States raising money and conducting recruitment to fight the Ethiopian troops (which were then occupying Somali that had ousted the extremist Islamic Courts Union warlords that had taken over the country).
This author specifically noted a fundraiser held in November 2007 in Minneapolis featuring Zakaria Mahmoud Haji-Abdi, the deputy chairman of the Eritrean-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), headed by U.S. designated terrorist leader Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys.
During Abdi’s keynote speech at the event, he called on recruits to join the jihad against the Ethiopians, promising training. Officials now believe that this event was the tipping point for radicalization in the Minneapolis Somali community, from where most of the missing men left.
Abdi was also featured at events in Canada and Washington D.C.
This is just one example of domestic recruitment and material support for al-Shabaab. During 2009, 14 suspects were charged in connection with helping the Somali men link up with al-Shabaab and providing financial and travel assistance.
One such man charged, Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, had traveled to Somali and fought with al-Shabaab, where he was wounded in the leg. According to the indictment, sometime in the fall of 2007, Faarax appeared at a meeting at a Minneapolis mosque, where al-Shabaab officials in Somalia spoke via telephone to the participants encouraging others to join them in fighting the Ethiopians. He later spoke at a home with a group of potential recruits, where he told them about how he had experienced true brotherhood while fighting with al-Shabaab and encouraged others to join the “jihad.”
It is not only young Somali-American men who have been lured by al-Shabaab’s call to jihad. In September 2009, Fox News
revealed that an American man who has appeared in a number of al-Shabaab recruitment videos and is now a top leader in the organization known as “Abu Mansour al-Amriki,” is in fact a 25-year-old man from Daphne, Alabama, Omar Hammimi.
His father is originally from Syria and his mother a natural-born American who raised Omar as a Southern Baptist.
A profile of Hammimi published in the New York Times Magazine
provides an in-depth glimpse of how this popular and Westernized American student became radicalized and landed in the ranks of al-Shabaab in Somalia.
His identification and indoctrination into radical Islamism began after the September 11 attacks, when he began associating with a group of fellow Western converts that practiced and preached the Salafi form of Islam. He quickly adopted the Salafi-style dress and austere moral code. Unhappy with the Islamic community in southern Alabama, he followed another member of the group to Toronto, where he worked among the large Somali community there and later married a Somali woman. He and his friend eventually moved their families to Cairo, Egypt, and he became acquainted with another American living in Cairo, Daniel Maldonado, whom he met through an online Islamic forum. Maldonado was later captured with al-Shabaab fighters along the Kenyan border, was returned to the United States by Kenyan authorities, and was later convicted on charges of material support for a terrorist organization and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. Hammimi later followed Maldonado to Somalia, where he joined up with al-Shabaab, which he admired for its attempt to establish an Islamic state and impose Shari’a
(Islamic law). Technologically savvy and fluent Arabic, al-Shabaab leaders recognized Hammimi’s leadership qualities, which they have put to work in their attempts to recruit Western fighters to their cause through a series of propaganda videos.
While Ethiopian troops were occupying parts of Somalia from December 2006 until January 2009, many counterterrorism analysts believed that al-Shabaab would contain its ambitions to strictly national interests. However, with the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, their attentions have turned international, including Western targets. They have also forged a close alliance with al-Qa’ida, professing loyalty to Usama bin Ladin and becoming another front in the global jihad.
This rightfully has American authorities concerned that U.S. interests–and even the homeland itself–could become targets for al-Shabaab.
One Western intelligence official recently told Time Magazine
, “There’s no longer a risk that southern Somalia could become a jihadi operational deployment facility. It already is.”
Unfortunately, this is hardly a uniquely American problem. Canada and a number of European countries have seen active al-Shabaab recruitment in their respective countries.
In addition, as Australian authorities discovered, al-Shabaab’s Western operations are not entirely focused on recruitment and support. In August 2009, the authorities arrested members of an al-Shabaab cell who had been planning a suicide attack on a military base outside of Sydney, in which they intended to kill as many soldiers as possible using automatic weapons.
FOREIGN TERRORIST TRAINING
The arrests of five Washington D.C.-area men in Pakistan in January 2010 demonstrate that radicalization and recruitment of Western Muslims by international terror groups is not exclusive to the Somali-American community. The men–ranging in age from 18 to 25 and of various ethnic backgrounds–left the United States in November 2009 and traveled to Pakistan with the intent to train at a terrorist camp and then fight the allied forces in Afghanistan. The men left an 11-minute “farewell” video for their families. According to the New York Times
, the men had been recruited online by a shadowy figure “Saifullah,” who has links to al-Qa’ida.
The father of one of the men, Khalid Farooq, is reported to have contacts with the outlawed Jaish-e-Muhammad group in Pakistan. Upon arriving in Lahore, the men unsuccessfully attempted to join Jama’at-ud-Da’wa, an arm of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization. At a hearing in a Pakistani court after their arrest, one member of the group, Ramy Zamzam, defended their actions, telling an Associated Press
reporter, “We are not terrorists. We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.”
The case of the “Pakistan 5” is reminiscent of six Buffalo, New York-area Yemeni men who trained in the notorious al-Farooq camp in Afghanistan during the summer of 2001, just prior to the September 11 attacks. The camp was overseen by Usama bin Ladin himself, and eldest member of the “Lackawanna Six,” Sahim Alwan, met privately with bin Ladin on two different occasions. He was asked by bin Ladin to act as courier for two videotapes, one on the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which he delivered to an al-Qa’ida operative in Karachi, Pakistan.
The men had been recruited in their mosque in Lackawanna, New York by two al-Qa’ida operatives, Kemal Derwish, who lived in Lackawanna, and Juma al-Dosari, an imam from Bloomington, Indiana. Derwish arranged for al-Dosari to preach during Friday prayers at the mosque, where he gave a fiery anti-American sermon. Juma, who was brought in by Derwish to “close” on the recruiting efforts, also met with the men in private and stayed in the home of one of the men.
The FBI also investigated possible recruitment by al-Dosari at Indiana and Purdue Universities.
Al-Dosari, who had fought with and was captured fighting with the Taliban, was classified as an enemy combatant and detained at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Kemal Derwish was killed in a CIA airstrike in Yemen in 2002. Riding in the car with Derwish was Abu Ali al-Harithi, the head of al-Qa’ida in Yemen and the mastermind of the USS Cole attack, along with four other known al-Qa’ida operatives.
All members of the Lackawanna Six eventually admitted to attending the camp, pled guilty, and received prison sentences ranging from 6 1/2 to 9 years.
While the Lackawanna Six had trained with al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan, no evidence was ever found that they were involved in an active plot against the United States. That was not the case with Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan immigrant who worked as an airport shuttle driver in Denver, Colorado. Zazi was arrested in September 2009 and charged with planning and preparing for a terror attack targeting the New York City subway system on the September 11 anniversary, using homemade explosives similar to those used by the July 7, 2005 London bombers. Under questioning by the FBI, Zazi admitted to traveling to Pakistan in August 2008, where he had received training in explosives and obtained detailed instructions in bomb-making at an al-Qa’ida training camp.
After his return to the United States, Zazi remained in contact with the top levels of al-Qa’ida, including Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the operative in charge of al-Qa’ida’s operations in Afghanistan.
Federal prosecutors contend that during the summer of 2009, Zazi put his al-Qa’ida explosives training to work in the United States. He and several associates purchased large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone products from Denver-area beauty supply stores. He then rented an apartment in Aurora, Colorado, that had a stove and a vent needed for preparing the explosives. Federal agents later discovered handwritten bomb-making notes on Zazi’s laptop computer during a search of his vehicle.
On September 9, 2009, Zazi left Denver in a rental car headed to New York City. Investigators were already on his trail, however, and by the time he reached New York, the plot was unraveling as law enforcement authorities began executing warrants and conducting searches.
Two other terrorism cases in 2009 indicate the great lengths that would-be jihadists will go to train with foreign terrorist organizations. On the same day that an indictment was handed down against Niajibullah Zazi, another indictment was unsealed against Betim Kaziu, a U.S. citizen who had traveled abroad with a plan to receive terror training and to fight with foreign terrorist groups. According to the indictment, Kaziu left for Cairo, Egypt in February 2009 in the hopes of going on to Pakistan to train with al-Qa’ida and to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight allied troops. While in Egypt, he also attempted to purchase weapons and sought to join al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Frustrated in his attempts, Kaziu, a native Albanian Kosovar, traveled to Kosovo where he allegedly linked up with three other militants–all of whom were arrested by authorities there. According to news reports, at the time of their capture, they had already obtained two AK-47s and five hand grenades.
After his arrest, Kaziu was deported from Kosovo back to the United States and is awaiting trial.
In October 2009, Tarek Mehanna was arrested and indicted in a plot involving several Boston-area men who had repeatedly attempted to receive terror training overseas; and repeatedly denied entry, they finally turned their attention to a potential domestic terror attack inspired by the D.C. snipers. One of Mehanna’s associates, Ahmad Abousamra, who fled the United States for Syria in 2006 after being questioned by the FBI, was named as a co-conspirator in the case. According to the indictment, and based on the testimony of a cooperating witness, prosecutors allege that Mehanna and Abousamra had discussed training in foreign terrorist camps even prior to the September 11 attacks. Abousamra actually traveled to Pakistan in April and November 2002 attempting to join Lashkar-e-Taiba and Taliban camps, but was rebuffed by the first because he was of Arabic origin, not Pakistani, and later by the Taliban because he did not have enough experience. Abousamra would later enter Iraq in 2004 and meet up with insurgents there who refused to let him fight because he was an American.
Unsuccessful in those attempts, the group turned their attention to waging jihad in the United States. The plan they initially discussed was to obtain automatic weapons and launch an attack at a shopping mall intending to kill shoppers and first responders. The plotters actually attempted to purchase the automatic weapons, but when their source could only provide handguns, the plan was abandoned.
Their would-be source for weapons was none other than Daniel Maldonado, who mentioned earlier had been captured fighting with al-Shabaab forces on the Somali-Kenyan border, and who was later convicted in a U.S. court and sentenced to 10 years in prison for fighting with the al-Qa’ida-linked group.
The failure of that plan prompted the members of the cell to travel to Yemen in 2004 to attempt once again to locate and join a terror camp, but upon meeting their contact they were told that half of the terror operatives in the country were dead and the other half were in jail, and that all of the terror camps had been closed. They had used a cover story that they were going to attend a religious school, but there is no evidence that they actually attempted to enroll. Frustrated in their attempts, Mehanna returned home, and Abousamra went first to Jordan and then entered Iraq where he was turned away by the Iraqi insurgents.
Their radicalization while living in the upscale Boston suburbs and attending the prominent local mosque illustrates yet more international terror connections to domestic terror plots. Mehanna and Abousamra had met each other while attending a mosque in Sharon, Massachusetts operated by the Islamic Center of New England. One of the most influential religious figures in their embracing radical Islamism was the mosque’s imam, Muhammad Masood.
At the time that Masood was hired, Abousamra’s father, Dr. Abdul-Badi Abousamra, was serving on the board of directors of the organization and later served as president of the mosque while Masood was the imam.
Yet few in the Boston community were aware that Muhammad Masood was the brother of Hafiz Saeed, the founder and leader of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization. Masood was deported back to Pakistan in 2008 after being convicted of lying to immigration authorities to obtain his U.S. permanent resident green card.
This is just one of several examples (the case of Anwar al-Awlaki and his longstanding ties to al-Qa’ida as well as several of the September 11 hijackers being another) of international terrorist organizations working in leadership positions in American mosques.
DOMESTIC TERROR TRAINING WITH INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS
Terrorist training for domestic terror cells has not always occurred outside the United States. In the case of Daniel Boyd and seven other conspirators arrested in 2009, Boyd utilized training he received in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early 1990s and began conducting terror training on private property near their homes in northern North Carolina. Following the arrests, Boyd’s wife, Sabrina, told reporters that her husband had fought against the Soviets “with the full backing of the United States.”
Yet Daniel Boyd in fact did not even leave for Pakistan to work for a Muslim charity there until nearly eight months after the last Soviet troops had left Afghanistan in February 1989. When he and his brother Charles were convicted of bank robbery in Pakistan in 1991 and sentenced to have a hand and foot cut off, at the time of their arrest, they carried identity cards showing they belonged to the Hizb-e-Islami terrorist organization.
Their convictions were later overturned, and they were deported back to the United States after the intervention of officials from the U.S. Embassy.
Twenty years later, Boyd, who had amassed a cache of at least two dozen assault weapons and 27,000 rounds of ammunition, was training his associates to wage jihad in the Middle East and elsewhere. Boyd and several others made at least two trips to Israel “to wage jihad.” According to federal prosecutors, on the first trip in March 2006, they traveled to Gaza so that Boyd could introduce his sons to “individuals who believed that violent jihad was a personal religious obligation.” In October of that year, another cell member, Ziyad Yaghi, went to Jordan “to engage in violent jihad.” In July 2008, cell member Hysen Sherifi went to Kosovo “to wage jihad” and later returned to help solicit support for terrorist organizations there. 
In June 2007, Boyd and his family attempted to enter Israel again, but were turned away by Israeli authorities in Tel Aviv.
Frustrated by their failure to fight overseas, FBI Special Agent Michael Sutton testified at a bond hearing that Boyd told his associates “If I don’t leave this country soon, I’m going to make jihad right here in America.”
To that end, members of the cell began conducting military training immediately prior to their arrest on a piece of private property in Caswell County, North Carolina, in June and July 2009.
Daniel Boyd, his son Zakariya, and Hysen Sherifi were indicted on additional charges in September 2009 for planning an attack on the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia.
Daniel Boyd’s terror career didn’t begin when he first traveled to Pakistan, however. In fact, he told investigators that he had received terror training in Connecticut in the late 1980s before his departure.
This is not surprising, as several foreign terrorist groups, especially Hamas, were known to have conducted terrorist training programs in the United States since the 1980s. One man who attended these Hamas training camps was Nasser Hidmi, a Palestinian man who came to the United States to study English at Wichita State University. He and dozens of others received his training from U.S.-based Hamas leaders who held clandestine meetings on bomb making and Islamist ideology organized around Islamic conferences sponsored by the Islamic Association for Palestine in Kansas City and Chicago. Hidmi was later captured by Israeli authorities in connection with an attempted terrorist bombing in 1992.
Another former Wichita State University student, Eyad Ismoil, was the man who drove the truck with explosives into the World Trade Center in February 1993.
The terrorist cell that conducted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the follow-up plot to bomb the United Nations headquarters and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in New York City had also conducted extensive military training in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.
Among those helping to conduct the training was Ali Mohamed, an Egyptian Islamic Jihad operative who later became a top security and intelligence official for al-Qa’ida, and who also was serving in a U.S. Army Special Forces unit at the time of the training. He taught them survival techniques, target surveillance, and weapons training.
Among those receiving training by Ali Mohamed were Sayyid Nosair, who would be convicted in the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane, and Mahmoud Abouhalima and Mohammed Salameh, who were both convicted for their role in the World Trade Center bombing plot.
The overflow of international terror training into the United States can also be seen in several plots since the September 11 attacks. In 2003, 11 men from the Washington D.C.-area were charged with preparing to join Lashkar-e-Taiba to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Eight of the eleven had previously trained in Lashkar-e-Taiba camps in Pakistan, where they received training in firing machine guns, grenade launchers, and anti-aircraft guns. The group had also conducted training at firing ranges in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and had conducted small unit war games at a facility near Fredericksburg, Virginia.
In Ohio, members of an al-Qa’ida cell led by Christopher “Kenyatta” Paul, who had trained at terror camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1990s and later trained al-Qa’ida operatives in Europe, conducted sessions in military operations at Burr Oak State Park in southern Ohio.
Three members of the cell, including Christopher Paul, have been charged and pled guilty to terrorism charges. One of the convicted cell members, Iyman Faris, had met with and was in direct communication with al-Qa’ida operations chief Khalid Shaykh Muhammad.
A plot targeting soldiers at the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey featured cell members who in 2006 had participated in military training, debated possible targets, and discussed various explosives to use at a rented lodge in Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania. Of the 14 plotters who attended the training sessions, only six were ever charged.
The training was led by Agron Abdullahu, who prosecutors allege had served as a sniper in the Balkans in the 1990s and was supplying weapons to the terror cell.
The plot was discovered when one of the members dropped off a copy of their military and weapons training made during their trips to Pennsylvania at a Circuit City store asking for copies to be made. When a clerk viewed the contents of the video, he alerted law enforcement, who then opened an investigation. They were arrested when they attempted to buy AK-47 assault weapons, M-16s, and other weapons from an FBI informant.
THE EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE
America is not alone in facing the international nexus to domestic terror. Two of the biggest terrorist incidents in Europe since the September 11 attacks, the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings and the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings in London, were initially believed to be acts of homegrown terror without any connection to foreign terrorist groups. Several years later, evidence indicates that early assumption to be false.
In a speech at Georgetown University in April 2009, Spanish terrorism expert Fernando Reinares noted that two of the leaders of the Madrid attacks were members of an al-Qa’ida cell that had been established during the 1990s. The cell had been in contact with another cell in Hamburg, Germany, which the leaders of the September 11 attacks, including Muhammad Atta, had been recruited from.
The leader of the Madrid cell, Jamal Zougam, was linked to a Moroccan group, Salafiyya Jihadiyya, that was also responsible for attacks on Spanish and Jewish targets in Casablanca nearly a year before the Madrid bombings.
In addition, the rucksack bombs used in the Madrid bombings bore the signature from explosives training given at a camp in Jalalabad, Afghanistan overseen by the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group.
The July 7 London bombings were also originally thought to be the work of strictly homegrown terrorists. However, as the investigation continued, it became clear that the leader of the plot, Mohammed Siddique Khan, had made trips to terrorist camps in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan in July 2001, July 2003, and finally in December 2004. On the last trip, he was accompanied by another of the July 7 suicide bombers, Shehzad Tanweer, and it is presumed that they received bomb-making training and received final instructions. Also during that time, the pair made their martyrdom videos, which were eventually released by al-Sahab, al-Qa’ida’s media arm.
London was also the home of two terrorists involved in attacks on the United States: Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man charged in the September 11 attacks; and Richard Reid, the man who attempted to blow up a Miami-bound American Airlines flight with explosives hidden in his shoe. Both men knew each other and had attended an extremist mosque in Brixton, where they were presumably recruited by al-Qa’ida spotters.
UK-based terrorists remain an international threat. In 2007, it was reported that more than 4,000 living in the UK had trained in terror camps in Afghanistan prior to September 11.
A British intelligence agent revealed in 2009 that 40 percent of all terrorist activity being tracked by the CIA was coming out of the UK.
In December 2009, Scotland Yard warned businesses that a “swarm attack” reminiscent of the November 2008 commando attack in Mumbai appeared to be imminent in London.
Of the terrorist plots and actual terrorist attacks in the West since the 1980s, very few have been truly “homegrown.” Rather the vast majority have been tied directly or indirectly to Islamist terrorist groups operating out of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and North Africa. Despite the talk of “homegrown terror,” the international nexus to domestic terror does not appear to be going away anytime soon. Even as experts talk of “self-radicalization,” one finds that much of the influences in that process–ranging from jihadi videos, books and tracts, and audio sermons–are coming from the Muslim-majority world. The main ideological currents of Islam in the West are also driven primarily by organizations and institutions based in the Middle East. The international influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and the global spread of Wahhabi-Salafi theology fueled by billions of dollars spent since the early 1970s by the Saudi religious establishment are just two examples.
The dramatic increase in terror plots and attacks seen in 2009 had primarily international roots. Whether terrorist operatives taking inspiration and direction from foreign terrorist leaders; terrorist organizations (such as al-Shabaab) actively recruiting in the West; or would-be jihadists traveling overseas for terrorist training and fighting, and then returning home to train others for attacks; there is every indication that the growing plague of domestic terrorism will continue to be tied to international groups and influences for the foreseeable future.
*Patrick S. Poole is a counterterrorism consultant to the U.S. military and law enforcement.
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Asif Shahzad and Sebastian Abbot, “5 US suspects in Pakistan Defend ‘Jihad’ Plans,” Associated Press, January 4, 2010.
Phil Hirschkorn, “Fourth Guilty Plea in Buffalo Terror Case,” CNN
, April 8, 2003.
Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel, “Suspected Al-Qaida Recruiters Center of Probe,” Buffalo News
, May 19, 2003.
Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel, “Combating Terror,” Buffalo News
, July 2, 2003.
Phil Hirschkorn, “Documents: Alleged Terror Cell Recruiter Denies Al-Qaeda Connection,” CNN
, April 12, 2005.
Michael Powell and Dana Priest, “U.S. Citizen Killed by CIA Linked to N.Y. Terror Case,” Washington Post
, November 9, 2002.
“FBI Outlines Bomb Plot Case Against Zazi,” Reuters, September 25, 2009.
“Al-Qaeda’s Afghan Head Reportedly Contacted Zazi,” Associated Press, October 14, 2009.
Bruce Finley and Felisa Cardona, “FBI: Terror Suspect Cooked Bomb Materials in Aurora,” Denver Post
, September 24, 2009.
United States Attorney’s Office – Eastern District of New York press release, “Brooklyn Resident Indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Murder Overseas and Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Terrorists,” September 24, 2009.
Ray Rivera, “Brooklyn Man is Accused of Trying to Aid Terrorists,” New York Times
, September 25, 2009.
Mark Clayton, “Informants Helped the FBI Track Tarek Mehanna to the Middle East in Search of Terrorist Training,” Christian Science Monitor
, October 22, 2009.
Mark Clayton, “Massachusetts Resident Tarek Mehanna, Arrested Wednesday, Plotted to Attack Americans at a Shopping Mall, FBI Says,” Christian Science Monitor
, October 21, 2009.
Abby Goodnough and Liz Robbins, “Mass. Man Arrested in Terrorism Case,” New York Times
, October 22, 2009.
Clayton, “Massachusetts Resident Tarek Mehanna.”
Shelley Murphy and Milton Valencia, “Two Young Men Reportedly Met at Sharon Mosque,” Boston Globe
, October 23, 2009.
Lane Lambert, “South Shore Terrorist Suspect Was ‘a Regular Kid’,” Patriot Ledger
, October 26, 2009.
Khalid Hasan, “U.S. Court Orders Deportation of Hafiz Saeed’s Brother,” Daily Times
(Pakistan), October 24, 2008.
“Accused North Carolina Terror Plot Leader: Jihadist or Regular Family Man?” Fox News
, July 30, 2009.
Steve Coll, “The Brothers & the Grisly Sentence,” Washington Post
, October 2, 1991.
Department of Justice press release, “Seven Charged with Terrorism Violations in North Carolina,” July 27, 2009.
Mike Baker, “Daniel Boyd’s Family Denied Entry by Israel in 2007,” Associated Press, July 29, 2009.
Sarah Ovaska and Mandy Locke, “FBI Agent: Boyd Spoke of ‘Jihad Right Here’,” Raleigh News & Observer
, August 5, 2009.
Doug Clark, “Jihadists: Armed, Dangerous and Training in Caswell County?” Greensboro News-Record
, July 27, 2009.
Ben Conery, “Quantico Targeted in Jihad Plot,” Washington Times
, September 25, 2009.
Josh Shaffer, “FBI: Boyd Said He Attended Terror Camps,” Raleigh News & Observer
, August 4, 2009.
Dion Lefler, “Terrorists Found Way to Kansas,” Lawrence Journal-World
, October 1, 2001.
John Rather, “Security Questions at Shooting Ranges,” New York Times
, October 5, 2003; Mike McIntire, “Man Linked to Blast Was Among Group That Used Naugatuck Range,” Hartford Courant
, March 26, 1993; Robert Davis, “Terrorist Probe Leads to Pennsylvania Farm,” USA Today
, June 28, 1993.
Benjamin Weiser and James Risen, “The Masking of a Militant,” New York Times
, December 1, 1998.
Kelli Arena, Kevin Bohn, and Terry Frieden, “Feds Charge 11 Men with Conspiracy in Overseas Jihad,” CNN
, June 27, 2003.
Jodi Andes and Kevin Mayhood, “Terror Conspiracy Bigger, Insiders Say,” Columbus Dispatch
, August 4, 2007.
Daniel Klaidman, Mark Hosenball, Michael Isikoff, and Evan Thomas, “Al-Qaeda in America: The Enemy Within,” Newsweek
, June 23, 2003.
Vinessa Erminio, “Fort Dix Suspects Plotted in the Poconos, Feds Say,” Newark Star-Ledger
, May 20, 2007.
Kareem Fahim and Andrea Elliott, “Religion Guided 3 Held in Fort Dix Plot,” New York Times
, May 10, 2007.
Wayne Parry, “Terrorists Trained in Poconos, FBI Alleges,” Associated Press, May 9, 2007.
“The 3/11 Madrid Bombings: An Assessment After 5 Years,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, April 9, 2009.
Charles Sennott, “Seeking Madrid Motives in a Cradle of Muslim Glory,” Boston Globe
, March 28, 2004.
Elizabeth Nash, “Madrid Bombers ‘Were Inspired by Bin Laden Address’,” The Independent
(London), November 7, 2006.
James Brandon, “Al-Qa’ida’s Involvement in Britain’s ‘Homegrown’ Terrorist Plots,” CTC Sentinel
, Vol. 2, No. 3 (March 2009), p. 10.
Helen Gibson, “Looking for Trouble,” Time
, January 14, 2002.
Ben Leapman, “4,000 in UK Trained in Terror Camps,” The Telegraph
(London), July 15, 2007.
Tim Shipman, “CIA Warns Barack Obama That British Terrorists Are the Biggest Threat to the US,” The Telegraph
(London), February 7, 2009.
David Leppard, “Police Expect Mumbai-Style Terror Attack on City of London,” The Sunday Times
(London), December 20, 2009.