The third annual report on Muslim-American terrorism showed twenty Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots in 2011, down from 26 the year before, bringing the total since 9/11 to 193 – just under twenty a year. That number, while disconcerting, fails to support secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s 2011 assertion that the terrorist threat facing the United States “is at its most heightened state since” the 9/11 attacks. The numbers also belie the hyperbole flung from Congressman Peter King, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, that al-Qaeda has extensively infiltrated and radicalized the Muslim-American community.
The report recognizes that the threat of terrorism remains and radical Islamists continue to urge Muslim-Americans to engage in violence. But such calls have been ignored by the vast majority of Muslim-Americans, concludes the report’s author, Charles Kurzman. (Kurzman’s book, The Missing Martyrs, is reviewed below).
The study notes that two of the 20 terrorist suspects received training abroad, the plots were of limited competence and did not reflect the planning of sophisticated, well-trained Islamist operatives, they did not fit any demographic profile, and prison did not appear to be a major source of Islamic radicalization.
There was also a decline in the number of Muslim-Americans indicted for support of terrorism, falling from 27 individuals in 2010 to 8 in 2011. The total number of indictments for support for terrorism since 9/11 – conduct including financing, false statements, and other connections with terrorist plots – is 462. While any acts of terrorism or terrorist related conduct is abhorrent, that 28 Muslim-Americans, out a Muslim-American community numbering more than 2 million, were indicted for such conduct in 2011 underscores the community’s low level of radicalization.
The study is the third such report issued from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a joint project between Duke University, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and RTI International, focusing on Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators.
Previous Triangle reports similarly dispelled myths about how Muslim-American opposition to Islamist terrorism is lackadaisical or nonexistent. One report found that “Muslim-American organizations and leaders have consistently condemned terrorist violence here and abroad since 9/11, arguing that such violence is strictly condemned by Islam”. Such statements, Kurzman and his co-authors concluded, “were not just for public consumption, but were supported by local Muslim religious and community leaders, who consistently condemned political violence in public sermons and private conversations.”
The investigation found that Muslim-American leaders were not timid in confronting signs of radical Islam within their communities. “Muslim-Americans have adopted numerous internal self-policing practices to prevent the growth of radical ideology,” the report observed. This included “confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism, preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques, communicating concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials, and purging radical extremists from membership in local mosques,” as well as outreach programs to Muslim-American youth.
That Muslim-Americans often reached out to U.S. law enforcement to finger individuals suspected of terrorist inclinations was significant, another study found. Kurzman determined that the largest single source of initial information (48 of 120 cases) to U.S. law enforcement involved tips from the Muslim-American community. Some of the tips came from family members of the accused but most stemmed from the general community. At least two Muslim-Americans judged by the community to be terrorist-prone because of their radical rhetoric later turned out to be police informants.