Noticeable increase in the number of Americans arrested for al Qaeda-related terrorism

or in the United States, over the Internet or on their own through a process of self-radicalization,” said Assistant Attorney General David Kris, the top counterterrorism official at the Justice Department. These cases, Kris said, “underscore the constantly evolving nature of the threat we face.”

For years U.S. officials have predicted there would be a rise in homegrown terrorism. “Now we’re beginning to see the predictions coming true,” said Michael Chertoff, the former DHS secretary. Because of this, Chertoff said, it is critical for communities to be on the lookout for unusual behavior. Law enforcement, he added, needs to continue to educate people on the differing signs of terrorism.

There is no single reason people drift toward terrorism. “It’s a combination of psychology, sociology and people who, just for cultural reasons, gravitate” to Islamic extremism, Chertoff said. “We can’t assume we’ve got months and years.”

  • Colleen LaRose, the Pennsylvania woman who allegedly met violent jihadists online under the name “JihadJane,” took only months.
  • In the case of North Carolina drywall contractor Daniel Boyd, federal prosecutors say he nursed his ambitions for jihad over decades.
  • Even when law enforcement officials know about an American’s interaction with suspected terrorists, they may not have enough information to act on it. Months before Hasan allegedly went on his shooting spree at Fort Hood, he was in contact with a radical Islamic cleric in Yemen, federal prosecutors allege. The FBI was aware of Hasan’s contact with the cleric, but he did not emerge as a homegrown threat before the shootings.
  • In 2001 John Walker Lindh was arrested in Afghanistan for fighting with the Taliban. Raised Catholic, the California native was twelve when he saw the movie “Malcolm X” and became interested in Islam. A few years later, the teenager who liked hip-hop music converted to Islam.

There are disaffected, alienated people everywhere in the United States who, for decades, have joined gangs and cults in search of an identity. Radical Islamist groups are yet another destination for those who seek purpose in their lives, experts say.


In many cases they have no criminal record and can blend into society, like the woman who allegedly called herself Jihad Jane, and travel internationally with ease.

AP quotes Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, to say that the spate of cases over the past two years shows the conventional wisdom about who is a terrorist is dangerously outdated. “There really is no profile of a terror suspect; the profile is broken,” said Hoffman. “It’s women as well as men, it’s lifelong Muslims as well as converts, it’s college students as well as jailbirds.”