Home inContext Homegrown Terrorism’s Pied Piper

Homegrown Terrorism’s Pied Piper

Samara Greenberg

Charismatic terror leader Anwar al-Awlaki is behind the latest botched terrorism plot hatched by two New Jersey men to join the Somali al-Qaeda group, al-Shabaab, and kill U.S. soldiers, authorities say. “Awlaki’s been moving up the terrorist food chain for several years now,” said a U.S. official. “He’s gone from propagandist to operational figure within al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has become more interested in external plotting over time, including planning attacks against U.S. interests at home and abroad.”

Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, were arrested Saturday at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as they prepared to take separate flights to Egypt and then on to Somalia. According to the FBI, the two men took part in “tactical training” and saved “thousands of dollars” to prepare themselves for joining the militant group.

Their capture is the latest in a string of arrests linked to al-Awlaki, including the Fort Hood massacre suspect, the would-be Christmas Day underwear bomber, and the latest would-be Times Square bomber. In addition, one of al-Awlaki’s lesser known recruits, Texan Barry Bujol, was formally charged on June 3 for attempting to deliver material support, such as cash and equipment (GPS units and computer chips), to AQAP in Yemen. The Obama administration has authorized the targeted killing of al-Awlaki, despite his American citizenship.

Anwar al-Awlaki

In response, Rep. Charles Dent has sponsored a House Resolution to strip al-Awlaki of his U.S. citizenship. The proposed resolution urges the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to issue a “certificate of loss of nationality” to al-Awlaki for collaborating with the enemy and soliciting treason against America. In addition, Rep. Sue Myrick, member of the House Intelligence Committe, is co-sponsoring a bill that would add to federal law the revocation of the citizenship of nationals who engage in terrorism against the U.S.

Indeed, last year saw a steep increase in homegrown terrorism cases, according to Brian Michael Jenkins, senior adviser to the president of the Rand Corp. From September 11, 2001, until the end of 2009, there were 46 jihadist terrorist radicalization cases in the United States. From 2002 to 2008, there were an average of four cases of homegrown terrorism a year; in 2009, the number rose to 13, and 2010 is on pace to match that. Contributing to the rise is al-Qaeda’s intensification of its propaganda campaign with more jihadist websites, including those in English, and the presence of American-born spokesmen for the groups, such as al-Awlaki. “The message has changed. Al-Qaida, up until 9/11, really carried out very ambitious, centrally managed operations,” Jenkins said. “The terrorism campaign is now much more decentralized, with a great deal of emphasis on do-it-yourself terrorism.”