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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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Still other experts contend that the 2009-2010 “spike” in cases of domestic jihadism and the overall increase since then are reflective more of the policies of federal investigators. The threat of big-scale terrorist violence “has pushed law enforcement toward prevention rather than criminal apprehension after an event – or, as one senior police official put it, ‘staying to the left of the boom,’ which means stopping the explosions or attacks before they occur,” Mr. Jenkins writes.

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Such policies result in inflated numbers that may give Americans an exaggerated fear of the threat from homegrown jihadism – and distract resources from catching the likes of the Tsarnaev brothers, some experts say.

“These arrest numbers are soft,” says Marc Sageman, an independent counter-terrorism researcher and former Central Intelligence Agency case officer. “They don’t look at whether the attacks would have occurred without FBI involvement in many of them as sting operations.”

A change in federal strategy, beginning around 2009, led to an increased focus on drawing out those involved in online discussions about attacking the US, he says.

“Before it was just these guys fantasizing about attacking,” Dr. Sageman says. “Now they get someone – an FBI informant – saying, ‘I’ll get you weapons.’ This did not occur very often prior to 2009. So, basically, what you are seeing is a very aggressive counter-terrorism strategy where a lot of people on the Internet are threatening government authority – but absent the FBI – it’s doubtful anything would have happened.”

Other experts are less sure. Online forums, websites, chat rooms, and other online means of disseminating Al Qaeda’s message – especially it’s online magazine “Inspire” that once included an article entitled “How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom” – is proving to be a potent means for cultivating jihadis, they say.

Dr. Brachman worried the Boston Marathon bombing is just one sign that Al Qaeda, which has struggled to get young Western male Muslims embrace the idea of attacking the societies they live in – now may have “cracked the formula on how to radicalize a young Muslim male in the West – one who feels culturally dislocated and may be dealing with personal grief.”

Al Qaeda’s “Inspire” purports to supply a rationale – and a solution – for the predicament faced by a small subset of American Muslims who may find themselves not fitting in and alienated from society, he says. The magazine creates for its readers a funnel that systematically works the reader through a process, explaining that all the disappointment, anger and failure are a result of one thing – the western “war on Islam” – and that the only solution is to fight back.

“I think we have to be concerned now about what we’ve seen demonstrated with the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston,” says Brachman. “Dzhokhar’s admission to the authorities that he and his brother read 'Inspire' isn’t just about how to build bombs. The fact they were reading and drawing on 'Inspire' is significant and reflective of a pattern we’re seeing in homegrown jihadism. He may be seeing these heroes of the Al Qaeda movement and saying to himself – “maybe I can be like them.”

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