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David Headley case: What's behind spate of US-based terrorist plots?

Federal prosecutors filed charges this week against Chicago resident David Headley in connection with the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. On Wednesday, Pakistan police said they have arrested five Americans suspected of seeking ties with terrorists there.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 10, 2009


A scene in a Chicago courtroom Wednesday served as one of many recent reminders that even as President Obama dispatches 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy Al Qaeda, he faces a growing radicalization of Islamic extremists here on American soil.

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Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to help Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist organization, plan the November 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 170 people.

Federal prosecutors say Mr. Headley visited Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan and conducting surveillance in Mumbai for the 2008 attack. In October, he was also charged with conspiring to attack the offices of a Danish newspaper that published what many Muslims saw as offensive pictures of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.

Antiterrorism officials say the evidence from recent arrests in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, and other US cities, paints the picture of American citizens getting radicalized in their local communities, attending training camps in Pakistan or Somalia, and then returning to the US to help assist international terrorist bosses plan attacks in other countries or possibly, on these shores.

Report: five Americans arrested in Pakistan

In what could be the most recent example, Pakistani authorities said Wednesday that they have arrested five American men, and preliminary investigations suggest the men were seeking to link up with terrorist organizations in Pakistan. Reports suggest the five men are from Virginia, and their families alerted the FBI when the men went missing.

Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told an audience in New York City that "home-based terrorism is here. And like violent extremism abroad, it is now part of the threat picture that we must confront."

But there is disagreement about how these terrorists are radicalized and what is the most effective way to prevent it.

"It's a huge concern because one of the things that US intelligence does very well is track known members of Al Qaeda overseas," says Howard Safir, New York City Police Commissioner from 1996 to 2000. "But what they don't know and what is really harder to determine ... are who I call the 'independent entrepreneurs' — the folks who are committed to jihad but who are not members of any specific organization."