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Boston Marathon bombing: Is American jihadism on the rise?(+video)

The Boston Marathon bombing suspects appear to be the latest American jihadis, responsible for a surge in homegrown terror plots and attacks. But their ranks are diminishing, say some experts.

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But there is serious disagreement about this “spike” in home-grown jihadi activity. Are the Tsarnaev brothers part of a dangerous upswing in homegrown American jihadism since 2009 – or the rare exception in a vastly diminished, quickly receding threat?

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“The circumstances of this [Boston Marathon] case are a little different, but it does seem to reinforce the overall pattern, the spike that we’ve seen since 2009,” says Jarret Brachman, author of “Global Jihadism,” and former director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. “There’s been increasing silence by Al Qaeda’s senior leadership, but an evolution toward outsourcing Al Qaeda operations to the grass roots.”

But if the number of indictments, uncovered plots, and actual attacks have surged since 2009, other researchers say another statistic, the number of participants in the homegrown terror plots, tells a different story.

“I certainly agree there was a big spike in 2009 and 2010, but our data show that Muslim-American terrorism is declining,” says David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center of Terrorism and Homeland Security in Durham, N.C. “We’re seeing domestic jihadi terrorism declining further. The facts are we’ve seen a drop off in the last three years.”

By looking at the number of those arrested on terrorism charges, not just the number of plots they are involved with, it becomes clear that the number of participants involved in homegrown jihadism is shrinking, he and others say.

Fourteen Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots in 2012, a drop from 21 the year before, according to a Triangle Center study released in February. The number of plots also dropped from 18 in 2011 to 9 in 2012.

“The director of the FBI in 2003 testified before Congress that Americans should expect hundreds of terrorist attacks in shopping malls, stores, and schools,” says Charles Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of the recent Triangle Center study.

“Fortunately we have not seen anywhere near that level of terrorist violence. Part of that is due to good policing that has disrupted plots,” he say. “But the decline also has to be because Muslim Americans have resisted calls to violent activity and share more values with their American neighbors than revolutionary movements overseas.”

Since 9/11, and not including the marathon bombing, Muslim-American terrorism has left 33 dead in the United States, Dr. Kurzman’s study found. During the same period, more than 180,000 murders were committed in the US – with more than 200 Americans killed in political violence by white supremacists and other groups on the far right, according to a recent study published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy.

For perspective, the volume of US domestic terrorist activity was far greater in the 1970s than it is today, with 60 to 70 terrorist incidents, mostly bombings, on US soil each year, according to a 2010 RAND study. In the nine-year period from 1970 to 1978, 72 people were killed in terrorist incidents, more than five times as many as were killed by jihadist terrorists in the United States in the nine years following 9/11, writes Brian Jenkins, the study’s author.


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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

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