Given the raw number of terrorist plots this year, it shouldn't come as a surprise that 2009 is ending with an attempt to blow a commercial airliner out of the sky.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed bombing plot stands out in part because it appears to have been designed and launched from abroad.
Homegrown American Islamist terror became impossible to ignore this year: Two fatal attacks on the U.S. military — one killing an Army recruiter, the other a mass murder of soldiers; an intercepted plot considered the biggest domestic threat since 9/11; and a series of conspiracies to blow up synagogues, office buildings, and other targets made 2009 the year homegrown American Islamist terror became a clear, serious threat.
An American stands accused of playing a key role in scouting targets in the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed more than 170 people. Five college students gave up promising futures to try to join the jihad against American soldiers in Afghanistan. And two young men were convicted for working with Pakistani militants in plots at home and abroad.
The Nov. 5 Fort Hood massacre was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. Six months earlier, Muslim convert Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad shot and killed Army recruiter William Long in Little Rock, Ark. Muhammad told police "he was mad at the U.S. military because of what they had done to Muslims in the past," and that he would have shot more people if he had seen them outside the recruiting office.
This spike in violence and planned attacks got the White House's attention. President Obama noted in his speech at West Point explaining the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan: "In the past few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano cited the case of Najibullah Zazi (a U.S. resident charged with planning to detonate a weapon of mass destruction who allegedly trained with al-Qaida): "We are seeing young Americans who are inspired by al-Qaida and radical ideology. We are seeing increasing links" between al-Qaida and American citizens "for purposes of planning terrorist attacks."
These and other recent arrests of Islamist terror suspects on U.S. soil should debunk a popular illusion: that the United States has been so successful at integrating Muslims into American life that it need not worry about homegrown radicalization, said Zeyno Baran, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Eurasian Policy.
"I think there was always a little bit of denial here," Baran told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. "People have been repeating the mantra that 'America is different' " from Europe.
Baran warned against exaggerating the potential benefits of integrating Muslims better into American culture to prevent radicalization. She noted, for example, that the British doctors who attempted to carry out a series of car bombings in London and Glasgow two years ago appeared to be well-integrated medical professionals. But the outward signs of professional and social success masked the reality that they had become devoted jihadists.
And FBI counterterrorism chief Steve Pomerantz expressed skepticism about the idea that better integration of Muslims would reduce the jihadist threat. "You only become integrated if you want to," he said during an interview.
Noting that many of the Muslims who immigrated to Europe in recent decades showed little interest in integrating themselves, Pomerantz said the United States needs to accept the possibility that American Muslims may follow the European model.
He believes the jihadist danger in the United States is likely to worsen.
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