Report: ‘Surprising’ amount of Islamist terrorism in the US has been homegrown

A new report reveals that the Islamist terrorist threat comes significantly from within the United States, not just from without.

According to a study by the Henry Jackson Society of the 171 al-Qaida or al-Qaida-inspired terrorists who either committed acts of suicide terrorism in the U.S. or were convicted in U.S. civilian or military courts from 1997 to 2011, the majority were American citizens, and more than a third were born in the United States.

“One of the most surprising statistics was that 54% of terrorists were U.S. citizens,” Robin Simcox, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and the author of the report, told The Daily Caller in an email.

“Moreover, 36% of all individuals were U.S. born, indicating that these were citizens who had grown up in the U.S. rather than having moved there later in life. Therefore, this statistic dispels the myth that the terrorist threat is primarily external.”

The Henry Jackson Society is a British-based think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.

Simcox believes his report dispels conventional wisdom about the terrorism threat.

“This report challenges the perception that a typical terrorist attack is plotted by Middle Eastern or Northern African operatives in far flung tribal towns of Saudi Arabia,” Simcox said. “It shows that, in fact, the majority of the terrorist threat is instead from U.S. nationals.”

The study found that terrorist “[o]ffenders were most likely to have been young men, aged between 20-24, college educated – and unlikely to be jobless,” Simcox explained.

“Offenders were also most likely to be U.S. citizens with some kind of American ancestry. They could reside in any region of the country – although New York was an especially popular location – and were likely linked to a Designated Terrorist Organization. 47% of offenders had received terrorist training, yet only 18% had gone on to receive combat experience.”

Read TheDC’s full interview with Simcox about the report below:

What compelled you to undertake this study?

This is a report focused on America, but it has its roots in the U.K. experience. In the official review into the July 7, 2005, suicide bomb attacks in London, it was revealed that the government did not even have a list of individuals convicted for Islamism related terrorism offenses. Out of interest, we began to compile that list. Then, as we realized the size of the sample, we began to question: who were these people? Where did they live? What was their occupation? Were they educated? We tried to provide a statistical dataset on these individuals’ background and activities. The end results were two editions of “Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections.” The reports were heavily cited by the government in subsequent counterterrorism and counter-radicalization reviews and, with the U.S. response to such issues still at a stage where we felt comparable data could be useful, we turned our attention to the U.S. – looking very specifically at AQ and AQ inspired offenses. Therefore, we hope that “Al-Qaida in the United States” provides the cost complete and comprehensive analysis of AQ and AQ inspired offenses to date.

What is the range of al-Qaida related offenses the study examines, from most serious to least serious? Were all the 171 individuals studied actually connected to al-Qaida in some tangible way? 

Only 38% of individuals were actually directly linked to AQ itself. That means that 62% were in some way inspired by its ideology. Within the study, there are a variety of offenses, ranging from facilitation and rhetorical charges through to attempts to use Weapons of Mass Destruction and destroy aircraft. We also attempted to group individuals into five categories:

Active Participants – Individuals who committed or were imminently about to commit acts of terrorism – were responsible for 37% of al-Qaida related offenses (AQROs).

Aspirants – Individuals who demonstrated an interest in terrorism but whose plans were not advanced enough to pose an imminent threat or whose role was limited – were responsible for 25% of AQROs.

Facilitators – Individuals involved in the preparation for acts of terrorism, either operationally; by fundraising; or by transferring documentation, material goods or finances – were responsible for 21% of AQROs.

Trained Aspirants – Individuals who demonstrated an interest in terrorism whose plans were not advanced enough to pose an imminent threat or whose role was limited, but who had received terrorist training at camps abroad – were responsible for 15% of AQROs.

Ideologues – Individuals involved in the preparation for acts of terrorism by incitement or by encouraging terrorist acts – were responsible for 2% of AQROs.

There is a persistent myth that terrorists are generally poor and uneducated. Studies and anecdotal evidence contradict that piece of conventional wisdom. What does your study say about the financial and educational makeup of al-Qaida terrorists who threaten the U.S. homeland?

It is true that there is a common perception that terrorists are usually uneducated and jobless. However, while this was found to have been the case on some occasions, the majority of offenders  (57%) included in the report were employed or full time students. In fact, 52% of all individuals had received a college educated or above. Nearly half of those employed were in skilled jobs, including financial analysts, pharmacists, professors and doctors, showing that the majority of have risen through the system, rather than being marginalized from it.