Terrorist attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing can occur anywhere. In the interest of their own preservation, Americans must wake up, get their heads out of the sand and be sufficiently alarmed at the calm, controlled, cold bloodedness of murderers such as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Never forget how he returned to school and mingled after committing such an atrocity.
Why is this happening? The answer is simple – because our politically correct politicians and media refuse to acknowledge Islamist radicalization. They are more concerned about political correctness than safety.
They reason that American Muslims should be immune to radicalization because, unlike their European counterparts, Muslims are socially and economically well integrated into society. There have been warnings that these are false assumptions, but the politicians and media chose to ignore them. Now, there is no doubt that radicalization is taking place inside America. At least ten American Muslims have been arrested federally for involvement in terrorist activities since 2009.
It goes without saying that the vast majority of American Muslims are law-abiding citizens. They abhor violence and extremism no less than any other American. Yet, sadly, it has become obvious that pockets of extremism do exist and pose a threat to our national security. More should be done to stem the radicalization process that is affecting a growing segment of the American Muslim population.
Many of the individuals arrested over the last several years did not come from under – privileged backgrounds. On the contrary – they had university educations, gratifying jobs, and solid links to American society; showing that poverty and lack of integration are not the principal motivators for radicalization. Individuals like Faisal Shahzad, Farooque Ahmad and Tareq Mehanna embodied the American dream, at least socio-economically. Moreover, American citizens who have been arrested for their involvement in terrorist activities over the last several years represent a remarkably diverse group in terms of ethnicity, education, age and socio-economic backgrounds.
To know what is really at the root of homegrown terrorism, we need to listen to the homegrown terrorists themselves. Omar Hammami, an Alabama-born convert to Islam, obtained a high-ranking position in al-Shababb. He made clear statements about ideology, not grievances, being the key driver of terrorism. Writing to his sister, Hammami said: "They can't blame it on poverty or any of that stuff…They will have to realize that it's an ideology and it's a way of life that makes people change." (Andrea Elliott, "The Jihadist Next Door," New York Times, January 27, 2010).
U.S. counter-radicalization efforts must be focused on addressing this ideology. Unfortunately, Americans still know little about it. We are far behind our allies in Europe who have been studying extremist ideology for years, most unencumbered by political correctness. Our citizens need to know that they have avowed enemies, whose ideology and strategies are intent on destroying our Constitution and American way of life. Only then can we successfully identify and engage these jihadists and radical Islamists.
Several years ago, I became aware of how radicalization can happen anywhere – even in our own hometowns. In my city, Charlotte, Samir Khan became one of the jihadi world's most famous bloggers. For years, he produced a blog that was pro-al-Qaida – which he started in his parent's basement. He led people to links of violent jihadi videos on the Web.
I warned the FBI. We tried to shut him down, but could not because "he was not inciting violence; he was simply putting out information." Furthermore, he kept changing the location of his server. However, the Bureau missed a key moment in Khan's radicalization – the moment he contacted al-Qaida in Yemen to offer himself as a recruit. Al-Qaida doesn't just take someone into their midst if they do not know who they are. When Khan departed for Yemen, it should have been a huge red flag. Once in Yemen (October 2009), he became a self-proclaimed traitor to America. He bragged about how easy it was to leave – right under the nose of the FBI. Isn't Samir Khan a perfect example of how political correctness spawns homegrown terrorists?
Khan became a major force behind the widely-read English-language magazine Inspire. It was a how-to manual – a mix of ideology, do-it-yourself jihad advice, and first person accounts of operations. Inspire was written in colloquial English, and had glitzy headlines and articles that made it sound like an 'American' magazine for jihadis. Khan's articles taught "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" – including using a pressure cooker – the method used in the Boston Marathon bombings. It is reported that copies of the magazine's bomb-making instructions and other sections have been found in the possession of several would-be attackers in the U.S. and Britain. He was one of the key people in recruiting and radicalizing Americans.
"I am proud to be a traitor to America," Khan wrote in the second issue of the online magazine. He described his past as working in the "jihadi media sector" in North Carolina, before his beliefs turned him into a "rebel of Washington's imperialism".
Very simply, Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American cleric, who relocated to Yemen and became the head of al-Qaida in Yemen, inspired others to kill Americans.
Al-Awlaki was also linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. Khan and al-Awlaki were killed in 2011 in a drone strike.
Bombings are going to continue. They are easy to do and very difficult to detect. I have warned for years that there could be simultaneous attacks in small towns all across America – 50 even 100. These attacks would be soft, easy targets. When I approached the Bush Administration about this possibility shortly after 9/11, their response was, "We don't want to frighten the American people."
What soft targets? Use your imagination. The jihadists will! As tragic as it may be, we must temper our 'trust everyone' tendencies for one of heightened alert – for the sake of life and limb. Local government officials and law enforcement need to be trained to spot threats and be constantly reminded that this jihadi concern is very real. Attacks like 9/11 and Boston have not gone away. They are not going to go away. This is war – an attack on America and the American people. Trying to redefine terrorism with politically correct definitions like 'vicious killers' and 'work place violence,' instead of 'terrorists' and 'terrorist attack' won't change a thing. Your town could be the next target. However, that is not reason to panic. It is reason to prepare.
A comprehensive program was presented to North and South Carolina law enforcement that could be very useful in preparing local law enforcement for coming threats. The potential of making that program available nationally is being pursued.
Sue Myrick, former Member of Congress 1995-2012, served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Chaired the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence. Mrs. Myrick is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.