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.
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Over the past five years or so, about 30 American Muslim extremists have been caught up in sting operations, according to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery American Jihadis
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Most recently, that includes Antonio Martinez (a Muslim convert who had changed his name to Muhammad Hussain), who attempted to detonate a car bomb at a US Army recruitment center in Maryland, and Somalia-born Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested in December for allegedly plotting to explode a bomb at the Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., where thousands of families had gathered for the traditional Christmas tree lighting.
Other cases involved plotting to attack synagogues in the Bronx, attempting to funnel money to a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and plotting to carry out a coordinated bombing attack on Metrorail stations in suburban Virginia near Washington.
“Many of these extremists have a passionate desire to act on behalf of their cause, but in a practical sense have a limited ability,” says Mr. Pitcavage. “Part of this is due to their selection of tactics, which often tend towards large and spectacular attacks that are difficult to carry out.”
“Part of this is due to an inability on their part to obtain or construct weapons or explosives on their own,” he writes in an e-mail. “Thus when they encounter someone purporting to be able to supply such resources [including undercover FBI agents], they may well be receptive.”
Targeting the 'lone wolf'
It’s often pointed out that security agencies need to prevent all attempted attacks in order to be successful but that terrorists need to succeed just once. Of particular concern are home-grown “lone wolf” attackers, seen as expendable to terrorist groups overseas.
For this reason, sting operations frequently are the technique of choice in heading off such attacks.
“It does send a message that the government isn’t just leaving the barn door open like they were before 9/11, that it will have some kind of either limiting or deterrent impact on those who don’t come under the scrutiny of authority,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
As Kurzman at the University of North Carolina points out, sting operations often begin with tips from the Muslim-American community itself – the largest single source of initial information, according to his research.