Home-grown terroristsHomegrown terrorists share characteristics, backgrounds

Published 4 January 2011

Since the 9/11 attacks, 90 people were arrested in the United States on terrorism charges for plots or attacks against the United States; a new study of the group finds that 44 percent had prior criminal records; 61 percent of the terrorism defendants attended some college, including three who earned doctoral degrees; 64 percent of those college-educated terrorism suspects were engineering majors

Abdulmutallab - underwear bomber, mechanical engineer // Source: mirror.co.uk

Almost half of those arrested for plotting or carrying out attacks against the United States had prior criminal records, mostly for small-time offenses, a study by New York state investigators found. Such interactions with local law enforcement represented possible opportunities to “detect and deter an attack,” the study said.

The Wall Street Journal reviewed a draft of the study by officials at the New York State Intelligence Center titled “The Vigilance Project: An Analysis of 32 Terrorism Cases Against the Homeland.” Using twenty-five variables, such as place of birth, age, religion, and affiliations, the report attempted to identify “trends in basic pedigree information” of ninety people arrested in connection with the thirty-two cases, which all took place after the attacks of 9/11.

One of the variables looked at by officials at the center, which is run by the New York State Police and brings together federal, other state, and local agencies to analyze and share information about terrorism, was the terror suspects’ criminal backgrounds.

Center officials obtained the criminal histories of 77 of the 90 people arrested on terrorism charges for plots or attacks against the United States after 9/11.

Thirty-four of those suspects, or 44 percent, had prior criminal records, according to the report.

A third of the charges were for possession or sale of drugs. All but one of those cases involved marijuana, according to the report. The next leading charge was for assault and battery, followed by weapons possession, the report said.

Assuming that criminal history information about these individuals is placed in appropriate law enforcement databases, each instance of contact with local law enforcement officers represents a possible opportunity for them to detect and deter an attack,” the report said. “It can also provide an opportunity to identify associates and links to foreign entities through subsequent investigation. As such, law enforcement can play a critical role in the counter-terrorism arena while performing routine duties.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the cases analyzed by the New York state officials began with the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, who tried to set off explosives hidden in his boot during a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001. The most recent of the terrorism cases was the Times Square car bombing attempted by Faisal Shahzad in May. Thirteen of the cases were plots against targets in New York or New Jersey.

The pedigree information provided a general description of the terrorists arrested in the thirty-two cases; young men, mostly educated, and mostly U.S. citizens.

Eighty-two percent were between the ages of 18 and 33, suggesting “that younger persons are less established, more impressionable, and therefore more susceptible to radicalization,” according to the report.

The report said 61 percent of the terrorism defendants attended some college, including three who earned doctoral degrees. The report states that 64 percent of those college-educated terrorism suspects were engineering majors.

Fifty of the 88 suspects in the study whose citizenship could be identified were born in the U.S., the report said. Eleven of those were born in New York and eight in California.

Also, 11 of the 32 cases happened during the past two years. In those cases, 17 of the 19 defendants were in this country legally.

Based on that information,” the report said, “it is likely that the ‘homegrown’ threat will remain a considerable challenge to our law enforcement partners in the future.”

Thomas Fresenius, the state police lieutenant colonel who heads the New York State Intelligence Center, declined to discuss the specifics of the report with the Wall Street Journal because he said it is “law enforcement sensitive.” He said, though, that the intent of the project was to try to pull together all the available information on terrorism attacks on the United States and create a “living document” — one that is updated with all new case information. The information is intended to provide law-enforcement officers with some personal and tactical characteristics of typical terrorism suspects to keep them engaged in the fight against terrorism.

Fresenius said the study shows that for officers from the largest to the smallest police agency, “there are opportunities at all times to possibly come across and encounter the movements and behavior of these people.”