Erick Stakelbeck is the author of the recently released book, “The Terrorist Next Door: How the Government is Deceiving You About The Islamist Threat.”
Stakelbeck, a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News, recently agreed to answer six questions from The Daily Caller about his new book.
1. Why did you decide to write the book?
Over the course of the past ten years of covering the global jihad, with a particular interest in how it is assaulting America and Europe, I had amassed so much firsthand, on-the-ground information via my investigations and interviews that I felt I had to sit down and combine it all into one comprehensive volume. My goal in that regard was simple: to wake Americans up before we find ourselves in Europe’s predicament. Europe’s restive, growing and radicalized Muslim populations are changing the very face of the Old Continent as its governments largely look on impotently, crippled by political correctness and a complete lack of cultural self-confidence.
Here in America, there is still time to reverse course, but time is of the essence. As I show in the book (with plenty of research and on-the-ground reporting to back it up), radical Islamists are making inroads not only in traditional gateway cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but in places like the Bible Belt and the American heartland.
2. You say the South is conducive to homegrown terror groups. Why so?
A few reasons. Number one, contrary to the left-wing media narrative, today’s South is a very welcoming, tolerant place. I’ve traveled throughout the region to conduct investigations and … have found that Muslim arrivals have been treated very fairly. In fact, the vast majority of Southerners have gone out of their way to be non-judgmental and make Muslims feel welcome. The bottom line is this: if Muslims were being treated badly down South (and by extension, in America), they would not continue to lay down roots there. For example, some 20,000 Muslims now live in Nashville, a city that I refer to in the book as a kind of mini–Ellis Island.
A second reason the South is attractive to Islamists are its still-vast rural areas that provide plenty of space to train, plot, and if need be, hide out. If you talk to counter-jihad activists and concerned citizens in a state like Tennessee, where several mega-mosques are being planned, they will tell you that they are being intentionally targeted. They consider the growth of Islam in their region as a premeditated challenge to the Christian heart of America. Where better for Islamists to lay down roots and show their dominance than in the buckle of the Bible Belt? And when a Caucasian guy like Daniel Boyd — leader of an eight-man Islamic terror cell in rural North Carolina that I describe in the book — purchases a large amount of firearms legally from a gun shop in say, Raleigh, it may not necessarily raise a lot of eyebrows.
3. The press for your book highlights a number of stats that seem in and of themselves completely innocuous. For instance, the number of mosques in the U.S. has increased from 1,200 to 2,000 in the last decade, the number of non-Christians in Tennessee has risen from 1 percent to 3 percent in the last two decades, a mosque in Alaska will be the state’s first mosque, etc. What’s your point?
The fact that the number of mosques in the U.S. has nearly doubled in just ten years — from 1,200 in 2001 to over 2,000 in 2011 — is not innocuous: it’s astounding. It’s also not coincidental. Think about it for a second. In the ten years since the greatest Islamic terror attack in American history, 9/11, Islamic centers — which, as I document meticulously in the book, have a long history of playing host to terrorist recruiting, planning and fundraising in the West — have not been discouraged. Rather, they have increased dramatically from coast-to-coast. This includes sprawling, multi-million dollar mega-mosques in places like Alaska, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee that are home to minuscule Muslim populations that are anything but affluent.
Why the need for these massive Islamic centers in areas where there are not many Muslims at all? And where is the money coming from for these structures? As I recount in “The Terrorist Next Door,” the imams have told me the funds are all “locally raised.” But I’ve been in mosques from coast-to-coast and have simply not seen the potential to raise millions of dollars among the congregants, who are, in most cases, not extremely well off. In most places, it would be tough to raise that much money to build a church or synagogue, let alone a mosque.
So where is the money coming from? The short answer is the Saudi Kingdom, which has spent billions of its petro-dollars over the past several decades building mosques throughout the U.S. and Europe (although it is not permissible, of course, to build a church or synagogue in Saudi Arabia). Funds from the Wahhabist Saudis and other wealthy Persian Gulf donors pay for many of these mosques. Then once they are built, Muslim Brotherhood-connected imams and organizations move in to run the day-to-day operations and supply the ideology.
Why is that so troublesome? A recent study published in the respected Middle East Quarterly journal found that some 81 percent of U.S. mosques feature literature that advocates violence. As stated, I’ve been in countless mosques and have seen this pro-sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Western and anti-Semitic literature firsthand. Not surprisingly, Muslim Brotherhood documents, uncovered by the FBI, reveal that the Brotherhood considers Islamic centers the “axis” of their movement in America, where “battalions” are supplied.
4. One narrative that is argued by some is that it was Osama bin Laden’s strategy to bring the West into a protracted war in Afghanistan with the 9/11 attacks. Explain who Noman Bentoman is and how he pushes back against that narrative.
Noman Benotman is a former top commander for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Islamic terrorist organization that is aligned with Al Qaeda. Although he now opposes Al Qaeda, Benotman was once a close associate of both Osama bin Laden and UBL’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. One year before 9/11, Benotman was one of an elite group of 200 top terrorist leaders from around the world summoned to Afghanistan to meet with Bin Laden and Zawahiri to discuss strikes against the United States, including plans for what would later become known as “9/11.”
I interviewed him extensively in London, where he is now based, and was stunned to hear him describe Al Qaeda’s flippant view of any possible American retaliation to a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Benotman said that Bin Laden and Zawahiri literally laughed and waved off his concerns that the U.S. would respond with overwhelming force. They considered the U.S. a “paper tiger,” Benotman told me, which would likely respond to 9/11 with little more than a few cruise missiles and some empty threats, like the Clinton administration did in the wake of the 1998 Africa Embassy bombings. According to Benotman, Al Qaeda did not anticipate a protracted war at the outset. It would seem that that strategy, if true, may have developed among Al Qaeda’s hierarchy later on, after it became clear that the U.S. was going to invade Afghanistan following 9/11.
5. How, to paraphrase the subtitle of your book, is the government deceiving us about the Islamist threat?
In five main areas which are exceedingly dangerous to America’s national security (and in no particular order):
1) By labeling each new terror attack or attempted attack on American soil — whether it is Fort Hood, the Underwear Bomber, the Times Square bomber and beyond — as merely the work of an “isolated extremist” who has no broader link to any larger ideological movement. In the case of the Fort Hood jihadi massacre, our own Pentagon has yet to acknowledge that Hassan’s actions were Islamically motivated.
2) As I document in the book, I have interviewed Islamic radicals and terrorists, face-to-face, who have told me they don’t pine for jihad because of poverty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or any number of canards that the left uses to explain away Islamic radicalism. Rather, they say they do what they do because Islam’s core texts command them to do so. Period. In other words, as I say in the book, it’s the ideology, stupid. No intellectually honest individual can review the Koran and hadiths, the actions of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, who was undeniably a warrior, or Islam’s frequently bloody history (both current and older) and conclude that Islam is a “religion of peace,” despite arguments to the contrary by the past two American presidents.
The evidence against this point is just too overwhelming to ignore. Yes, of course there are plenty of peaceful, moderate Muslims, folks who don’t follow the Koran literally and who want no parts of jihad or sharia. I’ve worked with some of them, support them, and readily welcome their assistance against jihadi ideology. But Islam itself, if followed fundamentally, to the letter, is far from moderate and is in fact, quite radical at its core. That is a highly unpleasant, even depressing, fact that our government refuses to acknowledge. In the process, they mislead the American people about the severity and nature of the threat with which we’re faced.
3) The Obama administration’s full-on embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood, both at home and abroad. From helping to empower the Brotherhood in Egypt to granting an open door to Brotherhood front groups in America, the Obama White House has made clear it believes the Brotherhood is an entity that can be worked with. As I show in detail in “The Terrorist Next Door,” this is a ludicrous proposition: the Brotherhood is the granddaddy of them all when it comes to Islamic jihadist groups. And if recent calls by international Brotherhood leaders to destroy Israel and take on America are any indication, they have not reformed one iota, with apologies to some so-called “experts” who suggest as much.
4) Blaming the lack of peace in the Middle East on Israel and very publicly, almost gleefully, throwing Israel — a loyal ally and bulwark against Islamic extremism in the Middle East — under the bus.
5) Downplaying the extent of the Iranian threat to America and the apocalyptic ideology that drives it, which I outline at length in Chapter 7.
6. What threat to the American homeland keeps you up at night?
As I outline in Chapter 7 of “The Terrorist Next Door,” the Iranian regime is the greatest threat to America’s — and the world’s — security and the most powerful standard bearer for expansionist, anti-Western jihad. So I am deeply concerned about Iran attacking the American homeland through an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack, the likes of which the mullahs have already tested (and which I describe in the book). I’m also concerned that Iran will act through its proxy, Hezbollah, to attack targets in the U.S. and throughout the Western Hemisphere. Lastly, a 2010 Pentagon report warning that Iran may have an intercontinental ballistic missile capability as early as 2015 — meaning the Iranians would be able to hit the East Coast of the United States with missiles that will very likely be nuclear-tipped — was not exactly comforting.
Ask yourself: is our government even preparing for any of these very plausible scenarios? Let’s face it: unless Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities to avert what is clearly an existential threat to the Jewish people, the mullahs are getting The Bomb. Probably soon. And the world will never be the same. The West, as epitomized by the feckless Obama administration, clearly lacks the will to do what needs to be done, which is: an all-out assault on those Iranian nuke facilities and a concerted push for regime change in Tehran. And before I’m branded as an imperialist warmonger, let me just say that the second part of that solution — regime change — would not necessarily require military action. Rest assured, if the Iranian regime acquires nuclear weapons, it will use them. And in the Iranians’ view, Israel is only the Little Satan. America is the Great Satan and ultimate prize.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.