How real is the threat of homegrown terror in the US?
by Steven Emerson
March 29, 2008
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JULIE BANDERAS: As several cases involving alleged American jihadists head to trial, a number of law enforcement workers are warning about the threat of homegrown terrorists, but just how concerned do Americans really need to be about the possibility of terrorists living among us. Joining us now, Steve Emerson, a counterterrorism analyst and author of American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us. Thank you very, very much for talking about this and this real threat. I mean Al Qaeda; what do you say Al Qaeda is depending on for these jihadist's cells to spontaneously pop up and surprise the United States?
STEVEN EMERSON: Well I think the last case, the last two cases that we experienced were the Fort Dix plotters and then the JFK plot. And people who spontaneously get motivated by what they see on the internet, by what they hear in the mosque or by what they hear by individuals cassette recordings that they have to hate America and avenge the attacks against Islam and therefore carry out attacks. The problem here is that I think there are a lot more jihadists than there are actually people willing to carry out attacks at this time. I think that there are a lot more people as we've seen in some of the court cases, who really hate America and are living here and believe in Jihad; but aren't necessarily willing to pull the trigger on a gun or a pin on a bomb. They really are waiting for others. They are the sort of the greenhouse for the jihadists to come out of.
BANDERAS: That's interesting. So they want to attack the U.S. They don't necessarily have the materials and perhaps they are going to sit back and wait. They hate America, that's number one though. And as you mentioned, these related cases, several of them; terror related cases now in the courts but some are saying that this threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism is overrated and specifically a former FBI agent actually said that none of these cases brought in the United States, in none of these of these cases did the government actually ever produce any evidence suggesting that someone had prepared a bomb. How do you try these people if there's no evidence and in the case of all those jihadists who hate America but don't necessarily have the materials to attack us, then how do you hold them accountable?
EMERSON: Well, first of all, the reason that they didn't catch them in the act of preparing a bomb is that the FBI's strategy and that of the Department of Justice is to catch them early, before they can be activated, and I think that they become a victim of their success so the public does not see the actual culmination of the attacks. Number two; there are definitely jihdists that were in Lodi, in Lackawanna, in New York, in Tampa. You have two types of jihadists; those that use the U.S. to carry out attacks overseas, and those that want to carry out attacks here. And look, we can go seven years, eight years; we've gone seven years almost without an attack and then, boom, we'll get hit one time and people will say ‘why didn't we know about this?'
BANDERAS: Well and there is a special tonight on FOX that talks about that and Ray Kelly says that he thinks the public has been complacent and that just because we haven't been attacked since 9/11 does not meant that plans are in the works. Now let me ask you about this website, because you log onto it and it is startling that this is actually on the internet right now. It's called revloultionmuslim.com and on it you see a host of startling images, including the Statue of Liberty with an axe literally cutting through her side, an axe blade. And then there's video mocking the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl, and its entitled, quote Daniel Pearl, I am Happy You're Dead with a smiley face. This is the sort of stuff that sparks violence in this country.
EMERSON: And there are thousands of those sites. Many of them, like this one, their portals are here. Their network providers are-
BANDERAS: Are here!
EMERSON: are located in the United States and they don't take them down, unlike what they did with Geert Willder's film who just produced this film called Fitna which angered many Muslims, which network providers throughout the U.S. took down. So there's a double standard here. But these sites definitely do incite people, there's no doubt about it.
BANDERAS: Oh yeah.
EMERSON: And, including the fact, that many Islamic groups tell their followers that there's a war against Islam. A Canadian official told me that that's the one single factor that motivates young jihadists to carry out violence.
BANDERAS: Ok, but Steve, this is what I don't understand; these sort of websites, the fact that they even exist, the fact that, like you said, their portals are here in the United States. If somebody were to go onto the internet right now, and let's say I plan on, and they put this in writing ‘I plan on killing the President, I plan on killing the President George Bush.' No matter which way they word it, there is some sort of system in place that would catch that, and get to those people who have now threatened the President. How is this any different? These people are threatening the lives of Americans every single day and they're getting away with it.
EMERSON: Well you know, it's interesting that you point that out. If you say ‘I want to kill the President' you can get arrested for that.
Emerson: If you say, ‘I want to kill Americans' you can't get arrested. If you say ‘Death to America,' it's free speech. There's a fine line here. And the Justice Department is really grappling with the issue of what sites you can shut down. There was a case in Idaho where someone operated many websites calling for the killing of Americans and he was acquitted because the jury deemed that he was not responsible for what people would do when they read those sites.
BANDERAS: Yeah, and I personally think that this site should be turned down. All of them should be shut down. In this day and age, you can't have this sort of garbage on the internet, especially young minds reading this garbage and getting this stuff in their minds at such a young age and then growing up to be terrorists. That's potential, right?
EMERSON: Very, very big potential, and you expand that potential with what I call the slow jihad. And the slow jihad really, people who infiltrate or insinuate themselves into the U.S. government that really hate the U.S. government and try to manipulate its policy to soften its attitude toward radical jihad. And I think that's what we're experiencing. That's what Europe is experiencing in a tremendous way.
BANDERAS: Absolutely. Steve Emerson, thank you very, very much and you've got to stay tuned to FOX for much, much more on this folks.