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Muslim-American terrorism study: Not many incidents, but it only takes one

Since 9/11, the number of Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators has averaged about 16 a year. Last year was slightly higher, but way down from 2009.

By Staff writer / February 2, 2011

In this courtroom sketch, Faisal Shahzad pleads guilty to 10 terrorism and weapons counts June 21, 2010, in Manhattan Federal Court involving the failed car bombing in New York's Times Square. Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison.

Elizabeth Williams/AP

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In the years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the number of Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators has averaged about 16 per year. In 2010, according to a new report, the total was 20.

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That was a sharp drop from 2009, when 47 Muslim-Americans committed or were arrested for terrorist crimes, according to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in Durham, N.C., a consortium among Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and RTI International.

But 2009 likely was an aberration – the year when a group of 17 Somali-Americans joined Al Shabab, the Islamist insurgent movement linked to Al Qaeda. The number of individual Muslim-Americans plotting against targets in the United States also dropped by half, from 18 in 2009 to 10 in 2010.

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

“Of course, even a single terrorist plot is too many,” says Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the report’s author. “But this trend offers a challenge for the American public: If we ratchet up our security concerns when the rate of terrorism rises, should we ratchet down our concerns when it falls?”

That is certainly not the case for federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities tasked with preventing domestic terrorist attacks.

While most attacks have been disrupted or failed on their own, 11 attacks since 9/11 have resulted in 33 deaths – including 13 people killed by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009. The Times Square bombing attempt by Pakistan-born Faisal Shahzad could have brought the total deaths due to domestic terror attacks much higher if the bomb had not failed to explode when ignited.

List of 2010 plots

According to professor Mr. Kurzman’s analysis, 75 percent of the Muslim-Americans engaged in terrorist plots in 2010 were disrupted in an early stage of planning.

“This is consistent with the pattern of disruption since 9/11,” he writes, when 102 of 161 plots – 63 percent – were disrupted at an early stage of planning.

On Tuesday, Colleen LaRose – the Philadelphia woman who called herself “Jihad Jane” – pleaded guilty to four federal charges, including conspiracy to murder a foreign target (Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who had depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad in ways that many Muslims found offensive), conspiracy to support terrorists, and lying to the FBI.

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