The Next Wave: On the Hunt for Al Qaeda’s American Recruits

A TV journalist tracks the ‘next wave’ of terrorists – the home-grown variety.

The Next Wave: On the Hunt for Al Qaeda’s American Recruits By Catherine Herridge Crown Publishing Group 272 pp.

Fox TV reporter Catherine Herridge has seen the face of terror, reporting from ground zero after 9/11 and from a Guantánamo Bay courtroom – where she observed plot mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed close up. She admits that for her the story is personal because she has two young children that she hopes to raise in a terror-free world and also because her husband is an Air Force major who was deployed in Afghanistan in 2009. She doesn’t admit to a political bent, but it seeps out periodically.

The thesis of The Next Wave: On the Hunt for Al Qaeda’s American Recruits is that home-grown terrorists are the threat tsunami of our recent past, present, and future. These Jihad Joes and Janes are American citizens, speak English, have clean records, American passports, and mass murder in their hearts. Herridge reminds us that they could be our neighbors. She also promises the reader, “What we discover together will surprise and anger you. It will change your view of the future. It will also change how you see those behind the 9/11 attacks.”

It is a tall order, one that she doesn’t fill. What she does do is to provide a reasonably thorough survey of prominent terrorist attacks, or attempted attacks, within the United States and around the world in the past decade, including the inept underwear bomber and the tragically more accomplished Fort Hood, Texas, shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan.

She also ties a number of these cases to the poster child of born-in-the-USA bad guys, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam who had contact with three of the 9/11 hi-jackers and who is now known as the bin Laden of the Internet. This is not news. The Obama administration put Awlaki, believed to be hiding in Yemen, on its kill or capture list.

Awlaki is certainly an intriguing figure. He was questioned four times by the FBI after 9/11, and subsequently became, as the author puts it, “quite the Imam around town,” a talking head when the media needed an articulate American Muslim to interview. (Herridge singles out PBS without informing the reader until much later that Awlaki also was invited to lunch at the Pentagon not long after 9/11, a story she reported last year.)

Much of the original reporting in the book, based on her TV work, examines the imam’s interactions with the US government in 2001 and 2002, when there was a warrant for his arrest on an old passport fraud charge that the government vacated, allowing him to leave the country for good.

While under suspicion by the FBI both before and after 9/11 for various activities, Awlaki did not publicly reveal himself to be a full-blown proponent of terrorism against America until several years ago. Until then, he had condemned the 9/11 attacks.

He was arrested in 2006 by Yemeni authorities and incarcerated for 18 months. Awlaki was interviewed by the FBI while in prison, presumably proclaimed his innocence, and was released by Yemen in 2007, apparently without objections from the Bush administration. (For whatever reason, Herridge does not mention his Yemeni incarceration and release anywhere in the book. )

The freed Awlaki subsequently would become a far less ambiguous figure, praising Hasan – with whom he had exchanged e-mails – as a hero for his 2009 massacre of 13 people at Fort Hood, and calling American Muslims who condemned the killings “traitors to Islam.” The imam also admits to having met the underwear bomber in Yemen, while Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square, N.Y., bomber, has confessed to having been inspired to violence by Awlaki and his anti-American rhetoric. The imam is now widely believed to be a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and actively involved in plotting attacks against America and other countries.

Herridge might have done better to focus her poorly organized book from start to finish on Awlaki. She speculates that he may have been part of a support cell for the 9/11 hi-jackers and also that the US government didn’t snatch him up in 2002 (or 2007, although, again, she omits this more compelling incident) because officials were trying to recruit him as an intelligence asset. Again, she is plowing well-harrowed fields.

This book was completed before the killing of Osama bin Laden, and Herridge may now be scrambling to insert a few pages on the incident – although the successful raid would clash with the pervasive tone of her brief.

When she isn’t disparaging the current administration herself, she is quoting people who do, such as counterterrorism agent “Daniel L.” who, she writes, “[b]ecause of his deep Christian beliefs ... is not afraid to discuss the darkness of radical Islam.”

President Obama just doesn’t get it, according to Daniel, who asserts that the current administration is “desperate to assimilate, ignore, or redefine” the radical Islamic jihadist.

David Holahan frequently reviews books for the Monitor.

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