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Al Qaeda: Rising Threat of Homegrown Terrorism
Overview of the Al Qaeda Threat & Homegrown Extremism
Jihadist homegrown terrorism presents a complex and dangerous threat to U.S. National Security. In the wake of 9/11, jihadist homegrown terrorism transformed from an outlying problem to a major national security concern that has been at the forefront of U.S. policy. Many high-level government officials have admitted that the amount of U.S. citizens or residents participating in terrorist related activity continues to rise. The Obama Administration has deemed this homegrown epidemic “the future of terrorism.” Jihadist homegrown extremism continues to be a major threat as Al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations seek to support and inspire American citizens to carry out attacks against the United States. As the Al Qaeda organization continued to suffer operational setbacks after 9/11, the terrorist organization reoriented its focus toward leveraging homegrown extremists within the United States. Extensive research will show that the phenomenon of Al Qaeda inspired terrorism within the United States has contributed to the gestation of the homegrown threat, proving that the pathways and mechanisms available to the jihadist homegrown threat are broadening and diversifying in size and scope since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Definitions of Homegrown Terrorism & Jihad
Since there is not one universal term that defines homegrown terrorism, for the purposes of this research homegrown terrorism refers to all terrorist activities, plots and attacks that are carried out by U.S. citizens, legal residents, and people who became active followers of jihad within the United States. The term jihad essentially means “holy war” within Western culture, whereas, Islamist professional’s associate jihad as a holy struggle. The term jihad has two distinctive meanings, the first is defined as radicalized Islamic followers that rely on their religion and ideological principles to help create a worldwide Islamic caliphate and the second practice of jihad is described as jihadists “who have made the jump to illegally supporting, plotting or directly engaging in violent terrorist activity. This research will focus on the latter.
Al Qaeda-Inspired, Jihadist Homegrown Incidents
Since September 11th, 2001, jihadist homegrown terrorism has continued to be an ongoing problem threatening the security of the United States. From September 2001 to 2008, there have been a total of twenty-one terrorist plots targeting American soil, which resulted in two actual attacks with an average of six terrorist plots or attacks a year. From 2009 to 2012, there was a substantial increase in terrorist related activity within the United States with forty-two total arrests of jihadist homegrown terrorists. The most notable incidents that resulted in attacks were carried out in 2009 by a Muslim convert, Carlos Bledsoe, who targeted an Army recruiting facility in Arkansas, resulting in the death of one soldier, and Nidal Hasan, an Army Officer, who killed 13 people and injured 31 at Fort Hood, Texas. These jihadist homegrown extremists are not affiliated members of Al Qaeda, but have embraced the Al Qaeda narrative without coercion and typically have only reached out to the terrorist organization after failed attempts or to seek guidance on operational plans. Al Qaeda has inspired a significant amount of homegrown terrorists with diverse backgrounds and extremist experience that have achieved various levels of success, whether resulting in executed attacks or only reaching the planning stage. An increasing amount of U.S. citizens, Muslim and Muslim converts, have corresponded with Al Qaeda, sought extremist training or desired to carry out attacks within the U.S. in the name of jihad and in support of Al Qaeda’s “global war against the West.”
Background: Al Qaeda’s Ideology & Influence on the U.S.
Osama Bin Laden, the late founder of Al Qaeda, began his theological career as a supporter of the Arab resistance during the Soviet Union’s invasion into Afghanistan, in which, the foundation for his belief that the Muslim community should take action against foreign aggression, arose. After the Gulf War, the occupation of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia sparked his interest and vocal opposition in sponsoring violence directed toward the United States. Due to his radical opinions, the Saudi Arabian government ousted him from the country where he enjoyed his exile by recharging his anger against the United States. By 1996, Bin Laden announced a “declaration of jihad” denouncing the United States and its military involvement in Saudi Arabia, “the international sanctions regime on Iraq, and voiced his opposition to U.S. support for Israel.” The declaration also addressed the U.S.’ involvement in eleven other Islamic countries and accused the United States for expanding its war on Islam. Bin Laden continued his campaign against the United States and quickly became an international spokesperson and leader of Al Qaeda.
As his anger intensified toward the U.S., Bin Laden publicly released his interpretation of the “clash of civilizations” and stated that the U.S. is waging war against all Islamic countries and that Muslims from around the world must unite to fend off such aggression. By 1998, Osama released a fatwa asserting that the U.S. has declared war against the Muslim community and all Muslims should find it in themselves to target Americans. These ongoing threats against the United States came to fruition on September 11th, 2001 when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing over 3,000 Americans. Prior to 2001, Al Qaeda had the capability to operate autonomously, conduct elaborate training at its base of operations, and coordinate complex attacks against the U.S. and abroad. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. counterterrorism efforts have significantly reduced Al Qaeda’s freedom of movement and operational capability to carry out attacks, forcing the organization to leverage homegrown extremists to further its plans targeting the U.S.
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Al Qaeda’s Expanding Pathways Toward Jihadist Radicalization
Al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations have played a major role in leveraging, recruiting, and inspiring homegrown terrorists within the United States. Each homegrown extremist case has varying motivations for radicalizing and resorting to violence, but each individual has had one factor in common and that is accepting the “ideological resonance of the al Qaeda stock narrative.” As Al Qaeda progressively transitioned from a centralized architecture to a decentralized and dispersed movement of followers, Al Qaeda extensively promoted a narrative against the West in order to inspire “jihadi terror” from individuals across the globe. The Al Qaeda narrative, sponsored by Osama Bin Laden, is based on two premises, that the world needs to establish Sharia Law and that the United States has waged war with Islam. Most Jihadist followers have increasingly supported the latter premise. Furthermore, the United States’ military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan has further exacerbated these radical notions and has been perceived by these individuals as an assault on the Muslim population, causing the jihadists to identify with the Al Qaeda narrative. Since September 11th, 2001, the Al Qaeda narrative has played a key role in encouraging several Americans to resort to violence in an attempt to prevent the U.S. from allegedly attacking the Muslim community. The Fort Hood, Texas shooting is a prominent example. A U.S. Army major, Nidal Malik Hasan, believed that Muslim soldiers should not be obligated to fight in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, since they could be put in a situation that may harm other “believers.” As a result of his radical beliefs, he shot and killed thirteen individuals to impede them from participating in the perceived U.S. war on Islam. Al Qaeda’s extremist messages resonated with Hasan and his radical views, leading him down a terrorist path.
Al Qaeda’s ideology has also appealed to the U.S. Somali community. A group of Somali-Americans from Minneapolis became outraged by the Ethiopian intervention into Somalia, viewing it as an attack on their country and the Muslim population from a government supported by the United States. Due to their beliefs, these Somali-Americans sought out radical Internet sites and extremist videos in reaction to the invasion. Most of these Somali-Americans left the United States to join al Shabaab, an affiliated Al Qaeda organization, to seek terrorist training abroad. Al Qaeda’s radical ideology captivated the Somali community and gave these citizens an opportunity to channel their dissatisfaction regarding the invasion of Ethiopia. Another prime example is Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani native who relocated to the United States on a student visa. During 2007, Shahzad became infuriated when he discovered that the United States pressured the Pakistani government to raid the Red Mosque, which resulted in the death of 100 people. After the raid, Shahzad travelled to Pakistan and received terrorist training and explosives where he attempted to ignite a car bomb in New York as a means to retaliate against the U.S. for the assault on the Red Mosque. Another Al Qaeda-inspired homegrown extremist is Colleen LaRose. Colleen was inspired to help the Muslim community and ease their suffering from perceived U.S. criticism. She continuously sought out data on Islam and began to progress toward more radical websites, which led to her transformation as an Al Qaeda supporter. Colleen’s radicalization led to her involvement in a plot to attack Lark Vilks, an artist who became scrutinized for drawing a picture of Mohammad. The Al Qaeda narrative has become an effective force for inspiring and leveraging individual discontentment and extremist perceptions, contributing to the radicalization of homegrown terrorists.
The Internet & Social Media
Prior to 9/11 and Al Qaeda’s operational degradation, advancements in information technology and the Internet have progressively contributed to Al Qaeda’s media campaign and success in planning attacks. After increased U.S. counterterrorism efforts, the Internet became one of Al Qaeda’s primary assets to propagandize and inspire self-radicalization of individual jihadists around the world. Since the onset of the Iraq War, Al Qaeda began to increasingly use the Internet and public media channels to reach out to other aligned groups and expand their global audience. It was during the Iraq War that Al Qaeda senior leadership fully embraced the usefulness of video recordings and the Internet to launch global media campaigns in support of jihadization and Al Qaeda’s perceived U.S. war on Islam. Over the past decade, Al Qaeda has designed an effective media campaign through the use of the Internet, information technology and interactive social networking sites as a means to reach out to the U.S. Muslim population and inspire Al Qaeda sympathizers into violent action against the United States. Al Qaeda’s media wing, al-Sahab, has played a key role in crafting and delivering Al Qaeda’s messages through the information technology architecture by tailoring videos, public statements, and other messaging channels to reach out to the Muslim-American community.
According to qualitative analysis on sixty-four of Al Qaeda’s media releases from September 2001 to 2008 by Ciovacco (2009), Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri have directed fifty-seven of their messages to Muslims, fourteen to Americans, and six of their messages to Europeans. Most of these messages were specifically tailored to a certain group of people such as Muslims and Americans and were intended to inspire violence against the United States by mentioning controversial local events during certain time periods as a means to incite and redirect anger at the United States. For example, Al Qaeda has made public statements involving 9/11, anniversaries of 9/11, and the U.S. intervention into Iraq to inspire jihadists globally and specifically within the United States. A majority of these transmissions mentioned the “call to jihad (53)…” and “clash of civilizations (51)” to unite the Muslim community and undermine the United States. The advantages of the Internet, information technology, and media outlets has allowed Al Qaeda to spread their ideology across geographical borders and has largely contributed to the inspiration of homegrown terrorist activities within the United States. The tailored media campaign has intrigued a number of U.S. citizens to embrace jihadist ideology and move from radical thoughts to radical acts of violence.
Al Qaeda’s enhanced understanding of the virtual marketplace has enabled them to create a multitude of online propaganda for recruitment of American citizens. By 2007, there has been at least forty-three hundred terrorist websites available on the World Wide Web and an increasing amount are geared toward Western audiences to garner support from U.S. homegrown extremists. The World Wide Web has created an environment that enables Al Qaeda’s leaderless jihad movement to learn Al Qaeda’s extremist ideology and act on their own recognizance, while remaining geographically autonomous. A known sponsor and senior leader of Al Qaeda’s leaderless jihad movement, Abu Musab al-Suri, articulated in an online Inspire magazine, which is generated by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), that individuals should follow jihad in their home countries. Another infamous Al Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, expanded on this strategy by virtually stating that all Muslims within the United States should either move or remain in the United States and mirror the actions carried out by Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. The ease of the Internet has allowed Al Qaeda to influence multiple targeted audiences, while eliminating the need for face-to-face interaction and promoting the shared values and ideology of various groups of people.
The availability of radical Islamic resources online has proven invaluable to leveraging individual jihadists within the U.S. For instance, Al Qaeda published an “online Encyclopedia of Jihad” that provides instant access to religious advice, radical material, and instruction manuals. This digital database allows unaffiliated followers “to train at their leisure in their own homes and plan operations with less chance of being detected and interdicted.” Currently, the Internet functions as an online library spreading extremist material into the hands of “lone wolf” individuals and “self-radicalized sympathizers,” enabling them to converse with other jihad operatives and discuss operational plans or setbacks and even ask an online representative for assistance.
The creation of social networks has further enhanced an individual’s interaction and connectivity to the terrorism world. Extremist social networks can either be physical groups of people who share a majority of the same radical values, attitudes, and philosophies, but also can take the form of a virtual group that promotes interaction among groups of people such as chat rooms, public forums, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. For example, Colleen LaRose also known as Jihad Jane, frequently visited the YouTube site to watch radical Islamic videos and continued to post comments regarding her extremist views. Due to her publicly written comments, an Al Qaeda recruiter reached out to her and eventually persuaded her to join the jihad movement. Similar to Colleen LaRose, an individual who was apart of the Northern Virginia Five terrorist plot, also found YouTube helpful for watching extremist jihad videos, where he met a recruiter to facilitate his violent transition. Social networks not only connect various individual jihadist supporters, but also facilitate interaction between recruiters and intermediaries from Al Qaeda. In these social environments, personal friendships and ties begin to formulate, developing shared feelings about jihadist ideology and world events that can trigger the radicalization process. Once these individuals form relationships and share attitudes toward a certain event, this is where small terrorist cells begin to form. The Internet and the information technology architecture continues to be a prominent mechanism for Al Qaeda to market jihadist messages, elicit extremist behavior, and broaden and diversify its pathways to leveraging self-radicalized, homegrown terrorists.
Interaction with Al Qaeda’s intermediaries has been a major driving force for recruiting homegrown terrorists inside of the United States, since these recruiters can actively promote jihadi terror and act as an accelerant in the transformation from believing to carrying out violent action. Intermediaries often provide encouragement, operational advice or publish ‘how to manuals’ to influence radical sympathizers and assist in the radicalization process as well as facilitate terrorist training abroad. These intermediaries tend to be familiar with English, understand American culture and can provide insight into Al Qaeda’s philosophy due to their involvement in both societies. Anwar al-Awlaki was U.S. citizen and an influential, extremist cleric that quickly became an international spokesperson for Al Qaeda before he died due to aggressive U.S. done strikes in 2011. Awlaki was a prominent terrorist leader for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and was known for radicalizing several terrorist plots and attacks within the U.S. Anwar al-Awlaki played a major role in facilitating the Christmas day bombing attempt and the Fort Hood shooting in 2009. The Christmas day bomber, Abdulmutallab, originally became inspired by Awlaki’s virtual lectures and eventually went to Yemen to meet the imam in person. Awlaki continued to network with Abdulmutallab and test his devotion to the jihadist cause. Awlaki, then, gave him instructions to meet with an explosives expert and buy a plane ticket so he could detonate himself in the United States. Anwar al-Awlaki served a crucial role in facilitating the radicalization of an Al Qaeda sympathizer, which ultimately caused a terrorist attack over American soil.
Awlaki also served as a facilitator for Nidal Hasan in the Fort Hood shooting, which resulted in the killing of 12 soldiers and one civilian. Similar to Abdulmutullah, Hasan began studying jihadist propaganda and ideology, which eventually led him to reach out Awlaki years prior to the shooting. Hasan continually sought out guidance from Awlaki and exchanged emails with the radical cleric. In response to one of Hasan’s emails discussing the appropriateness for Muslim soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, Awlaki issued a public statement claiming that if any Muslim person fights for the U.S. against an Islamic country then they are a “heartless beast, bent on evil, who sells his religion for a few dollars.” After Hasan open fired on American soldiers and civilians, Awlaki publicly recognized him as a hero. Anwar al-Awlaki served as a spiritual and religious guide for Nidal Hassan and assisted him in becoming a violent jihad.
This infamous jihadi cleric continued to influence Americans into committing violent acts within the United States. Many of the homegrown terrorist plots in 2010 were inspired Awlaki and his online extremist lectures. Jose Pimentel who was arrested in New York for making explosives became inspired by Awlaki’s teachings and attempted to make contact with the cleric. Another homegrown terrorist named Antonio Martinez, who was a Muslim convert, participated in a plot targeting a military recruiting station in Maryland. He also followed Awlaki’s messages and praised him for his work. Another U.S. extremist, Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, was arrested for attempting to join a terrorist group abroad and designing radical websites supporting Awlaki’s teachings and radical philosophy. Awlaki served as an intermediary and jihadist guru who recruited numerous U.S. citizens to conduct terrorist operations on their own, a few more include, Zachary Chesser, Paul Rockwood Jr., Mohamed Alessa, Carlos Almonte, and Fasial Shahzad,
Another notorious U.S. citizen and intermediary similar to Awlaki was Samir Khan. Khan, along with Awlaki, was killed in the 2011 drone strike. Khan was the editor for a popular jihadist magazine known as Inspire that was established by AQAP in 2010. Inspire magazine was created to target homegrown extremists within the United States. Khan influenced several homegrown terrorists from his online teachings in explosives and weapons training such as Mohamed Osman Mohamud a Somali-American who attempted to target a courthouse in Portland, Naser Abdo, a soldier in the U.S. Army who plotted a shooting rampage similar to Nidal Hasan, and Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales who attempted to join Al Qaeda abroad. Lastly, another prominent intermediary, Omar Hammami also referred to as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, who is a U.S. citizen and became an influential coordinator for al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliated organization. He participated in the recruitment of American citizens and publicly reached out to U.S. Muslim citizens to follow “violent jihad.” Intermediaries have played a critical role in leveraging U.S. extremists. Most homegrown terrorists have previous frustrations toward the United States and intermediaries have served a key role in recharging and legitimized their anger into violent attacks against the U.S. Al Qaeda’s influential intermediaries have facilitated, recruited, and coordinated plots and attacks directed against the United States and have primarily served as a resource and an additional mechanism that broadens and diversifies American’s pathways to homegrown terrorism.
Diversification of Followers
Al Qaeda has inspired an influx of homegrown extremists using a number of mechanisms to recruit individual jihadi terrorists such as distorted ideology, the use of the Internet and social media, and effective intermediaries to reach an extended targeted audience and diversify its followers. Prior to 9/11, Al Qaeda primarily reached out to Muslims everywhere, however, after 9/11 the terrorist organization has progressively sought to attract a broader audience and include non-Muslims in its war against the West. Beginning in 2005, Al Qaeda’s senior leaders began to publish essays, articles, and statements that reached out to disaffected and minority individuals within the U.S. as a way to foster anti-American sentiment. As of 2010, a majority of the homegrown extremists were U.S. citizens, with a mixture of ethnic backgrounds:
Sixteen of them come from Pakistani families, and 16 come from Somali families. Twenty are of Yemeni (8), Jordanian (7), Egyptian (2), Iraqi (1), Lebanese (1), or Palestinian (1) origin. Seven come from the Muslim areas of the Balkans: Albania (3), Kosovo (2), and Bosnia (2). Twelve are native-born Caucasians, and 12 are African-Americans, seven of whom belong to the Seas of David, while five other are converts to Islam. Two are Hispanic-Americans. The remainder are first- or second-generation immigrants from or nationals of Guyana, Trinidad, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea, or Turkey.
Most of these homegrown extremists became self-radicalized into acts of terror in reaction to Al Qaeda’s ideology and world events that facilitated their extremist viewpoints as attacks on Muslim society. Due to Al Qaeda’s media strategy, the organization is able to leverage an extended array of Americans with different backgrounds, experiences, educations levels, and ages. Homegrown extremists since 2001 have tended to be 35 years of age or less and mostly male, although females are becoming progressively more involved in jihadist circles. Since 2011, of the 95 individuals arrested for homegrown terrorism, twenty-four were high school dropouts, twenty-one had high school educations, thirty-eight had some college experience and twelve were college graduates. According to an article by Gartenstein-Ross who discusses Marc Sageman’s study (2008), illustrated that jihadist followers are primarily from the middle class of society, have obtained normal educations, and have self-radicalized due to their own research and religious affiliations. Research conducted by Jenkins (2010), shows that of the demographic information available on U.S. homegrown extremists since 9/11, sixteen of them had some college education in information technology, “engineering, pharmacology, and medicine.” Eleven individuals had a military background and another twenty-four had previous terrorist training. Research suggests that there is not one identifiable profile that assists in the radicalization of a homegrown extremist, but does highlight that the homegrown threat is complex and continues to diversify. U.S. officials are continuing to notice that Al Qaeda is seeking a diversification strategy to appeal to a wider amount of individuals in an effort to evade a jihadist profile and overwhelm U.S. law enforcement. Al Qaeda’s jihadist strategy has expanded the pathways and mechanisms to terrorism such as assisting individuals to find resonance with the Al Qaeda narrative through their extensive use of the Internet, social media sites, and effective use of intermediaries to leverage a broader and more diversified pool of U.S. born terrorists.
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Analysis & Case Studies
Al Qaeda-inspired, homegrown jihadist terrorism continues to be a dangerous U.S. national security threat, especially due to the advancements in information technology and the Internet facilitating an individual’s ability to cause catastrophic attacks within U.S. borders. The complex nature of the insider threat, which arose since the turn of the century, has never been seen before in U.S. history. This Al Qaeda-inspired threat has created an unprecedented phenomenon where isolated and marginalized communities of U.S. citizens virtually radicalize with other jihadist followers and intermediaries to commit violent terrorist attacks bringing harm to fellow Americans.
Since Al Qaeda Core suffers from operational degradation, the terrorist organization markets its radical jihadist ideology to leverage American extremists. In an effort to Americanize the threat, Al Qaeda has concocted a narrative that the United States is at war with the Islamic culture and continues to use this campaign to incite anger and radicalize more sympathizers to support its movement against the U.S. The increase in jihadist homegrown extremism since 2009 further corroborates that these individual extremists are finding resonance in the Al Qaeda stock narrative and are using a variety of mechanisms such as the Internet, social media sites, and intermediaries to assist in their radicalization against the West. Al Qaeda’s ideological relevance and these aforementioned mechanisms have expanded the pathways to homegrown terrorism and diversified the threat.
Two prominent homegrown cases such as Nidal Hasan and Colleen LaRose show that Al Qaeda’s ideology, use of the Internet and intermediaries have contributed to the gestation of the homegrown threat within the United States. These cases have been mentioned previously, but this research will take a closer examination into all of the components that contributed to their radicalization. As mentioned previously, U.S. soldier Nidal Hasan went on a shooting spree in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, murdering thirteen and injuring 32 others before he was apprehended. A decade prior to the shooting is when Hasan initially began to follow Al Qaeda’s extremist ideology. Hasan progressively became interested in jihadist ideology through online teachings and his first meeting with al-Awlaki in 2001, jumpstarted his radicalization. By 2008, Hasan’s radical beliefs led him to create a leaflet called “Martydom in Islam versus Suicide Bombing” and the year prior to his rampage, he re-established contact with his intermediary, al-Awlaki. Hasan and al-Awlaki communicated a total of eighteen times prior to his shooting. During this email traffic, al-Awlaki sent him instructions on “44 Ways of Supporting Jihad,” which involved taking violent action to defend the Muslim population. Then, Hasan replied, asking if he could take the life of other U.S. soldiers. The Nidal Hasan homegrown extremist case highlights that he was first radicalized on his own recognizance due to the availability and accessibility of extremist propaganda on the Internet. He was able to find ideological resonance with the Al Qaeda stock narrative due to his perceptions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As his self-radicalization process was taking place, he then followed and sought out an influential intermediary such as al-Awlaki for guidance, which significantly embedded his commitment and contributed to his transformation into a violent jihad. All of these mechanisms including ideological resonance, the Internet and use of intermediaries served as an accelerant to his violent radicalization, culminating in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas. The expanding pathways and mechanisms available to the jihadist homegrown threat are broadening and diversifying in size and scope since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Similar to Nidal Hasan, Colleen LaRose became self-radicalized and used the Internet and social media sites to research and follow Al Qaeda’s ideology. By 2008, she became an enormous supporter of Anwar al-Awlaki and his extremist teachings. During 2008, she posted comments on a YouTube video stating that she had a “desperate desire to help suffering Muslims.” Once she made this post, she made contact with two like-minded jihadists and an intermediary that facilitated her growth as a radical jihadist and gave her operational directions to kill a cartoonist, which she quickly accepted. A year prior to December 2008, LaRose used the Internet to interact with several people “who vetted her, supported her operationally, and ultimately directed her avowed commitment to jihad toward violent action.” During her many online conversations, she admitted her desire to become a jihadist martyr and helped recruit other jihad sympathizers. By 2009, her intermediary had spent considerable amount of time testing her recruiting and operational capabilities, once she passed the vetting process her intermediary directed her to kill Lars Vilks. Once LaRose accepted the mission, she travelled to Ireland and gathered intelligence on Lars Vilks and told her intermediary that she looked forward to kill for the cause. Before the plot was put into action, she was apprehended in 2009. Similar to the Hasan extremist case, Colleen LaRose found strong ideological resonance within Al Qaeda’s radical beliefs and used the Internet and social media sites to develop her extremist viewpoints. She initially became self-radicalized and through numerous interactions with her intermediary on YouTube and other online mechanisms is what catalyzed her radicalization. The interactive nature of the Internet and the social media websites allowed her to build relations with other like-minded people and an Al Qaeda intermediary, which corroborated her beliefs and facilitated her involvement in a murder plot. Both of these homegrown extremists found ideological relevance in a virtual society and were influenced by an Al Qaeda recruiter that ultimately enabled them to commit terrorism.
Since 9/11, the United States has been faced with a complex and unprecedented threat of jihadist homegrown extremism, mostly inspired by the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Since 2009, the United States has witnessed a dramatic increase in Jihadist homegrown terrorism and has deemed this homegrown phenomenon “the future of terrorism.” Jihadist homegrown extremism continues to be a major threat as Al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations seek to influence and inspire American citizens to carry out violent actions against the United States. Al Qaeda’s operational degradation after 9/11 has caused the terrorist organization to reorient its strategy toward leveraging homegrown extremists within the United States. Extensive research concludes that analyzing Al Qaeda’s influence and support to American extremists, their expanding pathways to homegrown radicalization such as ideological resonance, the Internet, social media sites, and intermediaries, as well as the diversification of followers has greatly contributed to the gestation of the homegrown threat. Exploring these components has proven that the pathways and mechanisms available to the jihadist homegrown threat are broadening and diversifying in size and scope since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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