Despite predictions that the threat of homegrown terrorism among U.S. Muslims would continue to rise, a new report indicates the opposite – that there is no immediate threat from American-based Islamic terrorists.
Terrorist plots have decreased in each of the past two years, since the peak in homegrown terror cases in 2009, according to the third annual report on Muslim‐American terrorism suspects and perpetrators released this week by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, located at Duke University.
In addition to a decline in violent plots, the number of Muslim-Americans indicted for supporting terrorism – such as providing finances, making false statements, and other connections with terrorist plots and organizations – fell from 27 cases in 2010 to 8 in 2011, bringing the total to 462 such cases since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the report claims.
According to the report, 20 Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots in 2011, down from 26 the year prior, bringing the total since 9/11 to 193, or just under 20 per year.
The numbers are nowhere near of what experts were predicting several years ago. In early 2003, for example, FBI Director Robert Mueller 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." However, there was no violence on this scale, according to the Triangle Center report.
As late as 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." Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, echoed Mueller's concern in her 2011 "State of America's Homeland Security Address," saying that the terrorist threat "facing our country has evolved significantly in the last ten years – and continues to evolve – so that, in some ways, the threat facing us is at its most heightened state since those attacks."
But the research conducted by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security proved those grim predictions to be wrong.
In addition, Muslim-Americans continued to be a source of initial tips alerting law enforcement officials to violent terrorist plots. Muslim-Americans turned in an estimated two of 14 individuals in 2011, the report found.
However, authors of the report acknowledge that "violent plots have not dwindled to zero, and revolutionary Islamist organizations overseas continue to call for Muslim-Americans to engage in violence," as radicalization within American Islam does take place to a limited extent.
But the number of Muslim-Americans who have responded to these calls "continues to be tiny," when compared with the population of more than two 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, the report claims.
In terms of the potential for casualties, the bulk of terrorism suspects in 2011 appeared to have been "limited in competence," the report said. For example, the list of terror suspects in the past year apparently included a man who on his way to bomb a Shia mosque, stopped by a bar and bragged about his plans to the bartender, who called the police.
One demographic difference in 2011's cases was the absence of Somali-Americans, as compared with three in 2010, 18 in 2009, and three between the years 2003-2008, the report stated. Public concern over Somali American radicalization continued to echo throughout the year, including a Congressional hearing on the subject, but there were no new cases of Somali-American terrorism in 2011.