Counterterrorism Expert: Threat of Homegrown Terror Has Escalated

Majority of plots tied to Muslim extremism

A vigil in remembrance of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Americans say there is 'high risk' for another attack. / AP
August 16, 2013

The threat of homegrown terrorism has escalated in recent years, a counterintelligence and counterterrorism official said on Wednesday.

'To give you a sense of how big this thing is, and I’m only tracking the people and plots when somebody is arrested and charges are made. … Turns out now we’re up to 148 plots and 398 people," David Major, a counterintelligence adviser to President Ronald Reagan and founder of the CI Centre, said at the International Spy Museum.

Homegrown or domestic terrorism is not confined to radical Islamists, Major said. Aaron Greene and Morgan Gliedman, Operation Backfire, or the shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh temple show terrorists run the gamut of ideologies.

However, as a society we tend to focus on the acts perpetrated by Islamic extremists. Critics have questioned the practicality of this, but Major says it is a logical focus.

The majority of the 148 plots were motivated by Caliphate doctrine, a term for the ideology of Islamist groups such as al Qaeda, Major told the Washington Free Beacon.

Citing research from his institution, Major noted '114 plots or 77 percent of them are self-identified Caliphate plots," and 'about 20 percent" are groups such as 'neo-Nazis, anarchists, the anti-government groups."

Caliphate doctrine is based on a return to the rule of the first four caliphs, who were considered the 'perfect" caliphs. It is described as the core narrative of al Qaeda today.

A senior fellow at the Brookings Institute wrote al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists look at this period as 'a model for what Islam should seek to revive, a caliphate that can unite the Islamic world or at least a large part of it, drive out the West, and be a player on the international political stage."

Still, some have argued that rhetoric surrounding domestic terror threats is exaggerated or 'overblown." News organizations have produced various reports citing conflicting statistical data.

One issue, Major’s argued, is how domestic terrorism is defined.

'Seventy-five of the [148] plots were to commit violent acts in the United States, that’s 51 percent. Forty-two wanted to commit violent acts overseas from the United States … [or] 28 percent, and 24 [or] 16 percent providing support to terrorism, in other words money collection, that sort of thing," Major told the Free Beacon.

'So does that make them domestic or international terrorists? How do you define that number?"

Some have argued that domestic terrorism is a small threat, as plots only rarely come to fruition. 

According to Major, many of the threats today are thwarted. Major cited recent examples at his briefing on Wednesday. Two instances he mentioned were of young American’s becoming self-radicalized.

Justin Kaliebe, of Babylon and Bay Shore, N.Y., was a student at Babylon High School, when he was 'allegedly radicalized by online videos of al Qaeda leaders." Authorities said the teenager intended to 'travel to Yemen and join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP]… and participate in jihad," but police stopped him as he attempted to board a flight to Oman.

Kaliebe’s charges were announced on June 26, 2013. He faces up to 30 years in federal prison.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Shelton Thomas Bell was indicted in July on charges he 'conspire[ed] and attempt[ed] to provide material support to terrorists." Like Kaliebe, Bell reportedly wanted to 'travel to the Arabian Peninsula to join Ansar al-Sharia (AAS), an alias for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and participate in violent armed conflict that he termed ‘jihad.’"

Bell is said to have 'engaged in physical, firearms, and other training in preparation for armed conflict in the Middle East." If convicted, he faces 15 years in federal prison.

'The vast majority of [recent domestic terror plots] were interdicted before it went off," Major told the Free Beacon, 'and that’s a good statement, it doesn’t minimize the threat."

'Unless it goes boom," Major added, 'the media doesn’t talk about it."

Published under: Terrorism