New York plot shows 'bunches of guys' can become terrorists in post-9/11 world
Organized groups are still the main threat, but homegrown jihadists can be very dangerous, too.
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The men met in prison, where they were serving sentences for selling drugs and other non-violent offenses. Three of the four apparently were converts to Islam. James Cromitie, the leader, allegedly was born into a Muslim family.Skip to next paragraph
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Cromitie told the federal informant that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and that he was upset about the war there and the many Muslims being killed.
The informant said that he was involved with Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani terrorist group. Cromitie said he would like to link up with the group, and "do jihad", according to the complaint.
The structure of the group follows the model of decentralized terrorism inspired by the example of Al Qaeda and other organized groups. Disaffected radicals, seeking revenge, organize themselves into "bunches of guys" that seek to carry out what they see as Osama bin Laden's wishes, wrote Marc Sageman, an anti-terror consultant to government and corporations, in his 2008 book "Leaderless Jihad".
Al Qaeda is not dead, but it is contained operationally, according to Mr. Sageman. Islamist organization now takes place in a hostile, post-9/11, wired environment, he writes in a recent issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.
"The Internet has enabled a new wave of terrorist wannabes, who now constitute the main – but not the entire – threat to the West," writes Sageman.
Given their intentions, and resilience, it is organized jihadist groups such as the actual Jaish-e-Mohammed that constitute the greatest threat to the US and its allies, according to Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown.
Consider the Mumbai terror attacks of late 2008, says Hoffman. They were carried out by the Pakistan-based military organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to the only attacker who was captured alive.
The Mumbai attacks were professional – and deadly. They consisted of a coordinated series of bomb and gun assaults which took place over three days and left some 173 people dead.
Contrast that with the actions of the Temple plot group, as alleged by US law enforcement. The four men were under surveillance virtually the entire time they were planning their actions.
"Basically, they were stumbling around looking for people to sell them weapons," says Hoffman.
But skill is one thing. Anger and danger is another. It appears that Temple plot participants may have been quite willing to pull the triggers of any weapons they happened to obtain. To those who might have ended up in their sights it would have been immaterial that the attacks weren't as deadly or broad as those in Mumbai.
"Unfortunately we face a multiplicity of threats," says Hoffman.