Is the threat from homegrown terror rising at a rapid rate in 2009? That's a major question raised by reports in the media and addressed by Congress with the unexpected rise in jihadi activities within our borders since the beginning of the year. Concern about the growing threat is warranted and backup by statistics. We know that between 2001 - 08, U.S. agencies prevented roughly one or two terror cases (either by individuals or cells) a year. But since the beginning of 2009, the United States has stopped one attack a month and over the past few months, we're learning about one jihadi operation every two to three weeks!
As I have been warning since June, this has become the single most active year, since 9/11, for attempts by the domestic jihadists to strike us on American soil. Worse, by my standards, since 2002 this is the first time these attacks have actually resulted in bloodshed:
- In Arkansas, two members of the U.S. military were targeted; one wound up dead.
- In Ft Hood, Texas, 13 Americans were lost and many others wounded.
If you add up the various other plots which were (fortunately) thwarted this year including threats in the North Carolina, New York, Dallas, Illinois and other locations and then combine them with the news about the young jihadists from Minnesota and Virginia who traveled to join the mothership overseas, you can see the big picture -- and it's not pretty. Unfortunately, the picture is very close to the predictions I made in my book "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America," which was published in 2005. In short, an army of indoctrinated jihadists is expanding among us and will be striking again and again here in the United States.
But why is homegrown terror mushrooming in 2009? In fact, the jihadi penetration of America is old, it certainly was well underway even before 9/11; but it has now reached a critical mass, after which what any administration does or doesn't do can trigger a higher pace of activities. The Bush administration succeeding in keeping a tight lid on jihadi activities in the U.S. but in the end it didn't (or wasn't allowed to) go after the indoctrination process, what I call the "jihadi factory."
The Internet has certainly become a mass distributor of the violent ideology behind terrorism and it is acting as a multiplier of cyber-readers who then mutate into urban combatants and suicide bombers. But cyberspace is not to blame; it is the legitimization of these ideas that creates the interest in Web sites that is the root cause of such interest and incitement. Ideas (bad ones) are what push recruits to feed on them anywhere they can find them, including online.
The Obama administration has, unwittingly, helped to speed up the process of radicalization, and its actions have helped lead to a paralysis in discovering and rooting out jihadists here at home. First, the White House issued a memo that bans the use of every single term useful for analysts to catch the indoctrination process. Thus, the administration has rendered our ideological radars useless. Second, by adopting a narrative -- both in presidential and congressional speeches -- that blames the United States for the rise of incitement, instead of identifying the ideology that provokes the latter, Washington has been, unintentionally, sending a message to jihadi recruits: They are being told that they were right to behave as they did; apology invites radicalization and we are witnessing it live.
My prediction is that unless the administration -- and Congress -- adopts a sharp change in strategy to counter the jihadists with a program designed to isolate their ideology, the factory will continue to produce terrorists and 2009 will be just the beginning of new, more violent cycle of terror not its apex.
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of "The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad" and a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.