How dangerous is the threat of homegrown terrorism?
When Sudbury, MA resident Tarek Mehanna was apprehended this month, according to the FBI, this marked number five in US terror related arrests. Thus the idea of the danger of a "homegrown" terrorism resurfaced.
Many people, though, are questioning if such suspects are real terrorists. How large a threat do they actually pose? What potential is there from them for large scale damage.
Europeans have known for some time that it is often the enemy within one's own national borders, and not some far-flung group such as al Queada , which can pose the largest threat to homeland security.
Most experts say that it is only the homegrown terrorist with ties to international operatives and access to the mission plans, weapons, and sophisticated training they offer, whom we really have need to fear.
Terrorism specialist Marc Sageman claims that we are facing a “leaderless jihad.’’ Al Qaeda central is not the driving force of terrorism as an operational machine but rather its ideology serves as an inspiration for self-organizing local groups to carry out their own attacks.
But other experts, including Bruce Hoffman, maintain that it is established organizations like Al Qaeda that remain the dominant threat and that we must focus more on the organization and its capabilities rather than random, radicalized individuals.
The pattern of terrorism arrests since 9/11 seems to support the argument that homegrown radicalism is the greatest threat the United States faces and that Al Qaeda has lost its capability to carry out direct attacks outside of its Afghanistan-Pakistan operating base. But just because homegrown plots constitute the majority of those uncovered doesn’t mean that homegrown terrorism is the greatest threat. Many of the homegrown plots have been all talk and little action. Even if the plots were executed, they would have been limited in scope - small explosive and ambush attacks or targeted killings. Mehana allegedly plotted to ambush and shoot shoppers at a mall. While it would have been a tragic incident, it would be nowhere near the scale of 9/11 or the Mumbai attacks.
In addition, there is a significant difference between self-taught would-be terrorists and stealth operators who have had training and contacts overseas like the sophisticated Mumbai attackers, Ramzi Yousef, or Mohamed Atta. Homegrown radicals aren’t able to carry out the sophisticated, coordinated attacks that pose the greatest danger.
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