Subscribe to FDD

Homegrown Terror in the U.S.

March 2013

  • In the wake of America’s financial crisis, al Qaeda and its affiliates have explained publicly that they have undertaken a strategic shift: that they are planning to carry out smaller but more frequent attacks against the U.S. and other Western countries in order to erode their enemies’ economy.
  • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula described this shift in its English-language online magazine Inspire as a “strategy of a thousand cuts.” Al Qaeda’s own propaganda suggests that homegrown terrorists play a part in this strategy. For example, a March 2010 video message by Adam Gadahn was geared toward Muslims living in the West.
  • Homegrown terrorists enjoy certain advantages with respect to their ability to strike at the U.S. These include the fact that you cannot stop them at the border, and that they are familiar with the culture, so can easily blend into American society without sticking out.
  • Some observers frame homegrown terrorism as distinct from, and even opposed to, the problem of terrorist networks. There is, in fact, no sharp divide between the two. Homegrown terrorists have acted in service of terrorist networks before, and there is evidence that networks improve their effectiveness.
  • One significant trend in homegrown terrorism is the recruitment of Somalis living in the U.S. to return to Somalia and liaise with the jihadi group al Shabaab. They have also engaged in fundraising efforts on Shabaab’s behalf.
  • U.S. authorities have increasingly employed sting operations, wherein individuals who seem to have radicalized (not only Islamic extremists, but also those with extreme political views) are given the opportunity to undertake violent acts in service of their ideas. Federal agents might pose as al Qaeda operatives, for example, seeing how far an individual is willing to go. Such tactics have been increasingly controversial. Are they making us safer, or are they treading a line and potentially entrapping American citizens?
  • Analysts continue to study the root causes of radicalization. Some say it is foreign occupation and bungled U.S. foreign policies. Others say it is poverty, lack of education, and other socioeconomic factors. Others still view religion as the primary driver.
  • FDD continues to analyze the factors that lie at the root of radicalization.