American citizens are participating in terrorist activities as members of al Qaeda and are likely to continue to do so in the future, according to a new study by the Henry Jackson Society.
"Future attacks against the American homeland will be less organized, less complex—they’re just going to be more numerous, and more likely to be conducted by citizens and long-term residents of the United States," former CIA and National Security Agency director Ret. Gen. Michael Hayden said during an event launching the study at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Tuesday.
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The study, "Al-Qaeda in the United States," examined "171 individuals who were convicted for al-Qaeda related offenses (AQROs) or committed suicide attacks between 1997 and 2011," according to its summary.
Al Qaeda related offenses were broken into 10 categories, including "Material Support," "Kill, Kidnap, Maim or Injure," and "False Information."
"The majority of the threat was from the U.S.," said study author Robin Simcox. "Fifty-four percent were U.S. citizens."
Thirty-six percent were born in the United States.
The study analyzed the age, gender, nationality, place of residence, occupation, religious conversion, and formal training of those linked with al Qaeda.
The majority were men, with a third between 20 and 24 years of age, Simcox said. The oldest individual charged was a 63-year-old male.
However, the employment and education levels may be surprising to some, Simcox said.
"[There is a] perception in the US that perhaps some of these individuals lack economic opportunities," Simcox said. "It is not always the case, and not even the case in the majority of the time."
Thirteen percent were students and 20 percent had skilled employment, including as pharmacists and financial analysts.
"The perception that 9/11 brought terrorists from tribal towns has to begin to change," Simcox said. "It is U.S. citizens that have passed through the system more than anything."
A majority of the terrorists received training in Afghanistan or Pakistan. U.S. citizens that converted from Christianity to Islam comprised nearly a quarter of the terrorists studied.
However, Simcox was quick to point out that the real concern for the immediate future is people acting without formal training.
"People inspired by the ideology think [it] can be achieved in the nontraditional way," Simcox said.
"This is not about targeting Americans or American groups," Hayden said. "This is about being aware that Americans are being targeted by al Qaeda."