Homegrown terrorism is commonly associated with an international organization rather than being a ‘lone wolf’ act committed by isolated and disturbed individuals who have been radicalized apart from contact with a larger like-minded group.[1] It constitutes terrorist attacks from within the target nation, often Western. The controversial and failed Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 defines homegrown terrorism as the “use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”[2] The Congressional Research Service report “American Jihadist Terrorism: Combatting a Complex Threat” describes homegrown terrorism as a “terrorist activity or plots perpetuated within the United States or abroad by American citizens, permanent legal residents, or visitors radicalized largely within the United States.”[3]

The definition of homegrown terrorism includes what is normally considered domestic terrorism, like the Oklahoma City bombing, but at present is most commonly used in the context of Islamist terrorism perpetrated by Western-born citizens, or those who have spent a considerable part of their lives in the West, on other Western nations. Domestic terrorists have identical, or nearly so, means of militarily and ideologically carrying on their fight without necessarily having a centralized command structure regardless of whether the source of inspiration is domestic, foreign, or transnational.[4]

Recent trends[edit | edit source]

Homegrown or imported terrorism is not new to the United States or Europe. The United States has uncovered a number of alleged terrorist plots that have been successfully suppressed through domestic intelligence and law enforcement. The United States has begun to account for the threat of homegrown terrorism, as shown by increased volume of literature on the subject in recent years and increased number of terrorist sites since Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, began posting beheading videos in 2003. A July 2009 document by the FBI estimated that there were roughly 15,000 websites and web forums that support terrorist activities, with around 10,000 of them actively maintained. 80% of these sites are on U.S.-based servers.[5]

According to the Congressional Research Service’s study, “American Jihadist Terrorism: Combatting a Complex Threat,” between May 2009 and November 2010, law enforcement made arrests related to 22 homegrown jihadist-inspired terror plots by American citizens or legal residents of the U.S. This is a significant increase over the 21 plots caught in the seven interim years after the September 11, 2001 attacks. During these seven years, two plots resulted in attacks, compared to the two attacks between May 2009 and November 2010, which resulted in 14 deaths. This spike post-May 2009 shows that some Americans are susceptible to ideologies that support a violent form of jihad.[3][6] Roughly one-quarter of these plots are linked to major international terrorist groups but there is an increasing number of Americans holding high-level operational roles in these terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.[6][7][8] Perhaps for these reasons, former CIA Director Michael Hayden called homegrown terrorism the more serious threat faced by American citizens today.[9]

England, likewise, considers homegrown terrorism to be a considerable threat. On June 6, 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a wide-ranging strategy to prevent British citizens from being radicalized into becoming terrorists while at university. The strategy looks to prevent extremist speakers or groups from coming to universities.[10]

Appeal for international organizations[edit | edit source]

Homegrown terrorists have an advantage in that they face less logistical problems such as entering the target nation, as well as familiarity with society and customs, and greater ease in identifying targets. This makes them lucrative assets to international terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda recognizes the value of native citizens and led to an official tactical shift in operations toward homegrown terrorism, according to al-Qaeda’s U.S. born spokesperson, Adam Gadahn.[1] This new strategy focuses on inspiring American-Muslims to become one-man terrorist cells.[11]

Dispatching less experienced recruits decreases the amount of time that they have to be identified and detected by law enforcement. Some potential jihadists, like the perpetrators of the July 7, 2005 underground bombings in London, even stopped attending services at their mosques, as they were believed to be under surveillance.[12]

Low-level members provide a low-cost option for terrorist organizations that are meant to consume the attention of law enforcement and intelligence organizations in the hope that one will succeed or a greater operation may go unnoticed. Additionally, democracies are challenged in handling internal dissent, such as terrorism. Hayden frames the problem facing democracies, "how do you build a security structure that guards you against American citizens who are beginning to change in their thinking up to a point where they become a threat to the security of other Americans? That’s a devil of a problem” because the next step that intelligence communities would take would be to infringe on the privacy of Americans.[9]

Terrorism is a relatively inexpensive proposition for organizations. The minimal cost of orchestrating an operation means that foreign terrorist groups will likely continue to regard U.S. homeland operations as both desirable and a financially feasible option. Even failed plots, such as the Times Square bombing plot, can still pay vast dividends in terms of publicity and attention.[7]

Participants[edit | edit source]

There is no one path toward violence. Homegrown terrorists have been high school dropouts, college graduates, members of the military, and cover the range of financial situations. Some studied overseas and were exposed to radical Islamist thought while others took their inspiration from the internet.[13] Marc Sageman reveals in his book, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, that contrary to popular belief, radicalization into terrorism is not the product of poverty, various forms of brainwashing, youth, ignorance, lack of education, lack of employment, lack of social responsibility, criminality, or mental illness.[14] Intermediaries and English-speaking imams, like Anwar al-Awlaki, who are often found through the internet on forums, provide key roles in the radicalization process. Social networks provided in forums support and build upon an individual’s radical beliefs. Prison systems are also a concern as a place of radicalization and jihadist recruiting as nearly three dozen ex-convicts who attended training camps in Yemen were believed to have been radicalized in prison.[6] The only constant appears to be "a newfound hatred for their native or adopted country, a degree of dangerous malleability, and a religious fervor justifying or legitimizing violence that impels these very impressionable and perhaps easily influenced individuals toward potentially lethal acts of violence," according to Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman's September 2010 Bipartisan Policy Center paper.[7]

Commonalities shared[edit | edit source]

This does not account for all homegrown Islamist terrorists but many of the markers identified below are common to past homegrown terrorists:

  • Male Muslims
    • While women are increasingly becoming involved with jihadi groups; to date, Western-based radicalized women have primarily acted in a support role
  • Under the age of 35
  • Local residents and citizens of Western liberal democracies
  • Varied ethnic backgrounds but often are second or third generation of their home country.
  • Middle class backgrounds; not economically destitute
  • Educated; at least high school graduates, if not university students
  • Recent converts to Islam are particularly vulnerable
  • Do not begin as radical or even devout Muslims
  • “Unremarkable” – having “ordinary” lives and jobs
  • Little, if any, criminal history[15]

Reasons for radicalization[edit | edit source]

A number of studies assess the reasons for radicalization including the NYPD’s “Radicalization in the West: The Threat of Homegrown Terrorism” and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman’s Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K.: An Empirical Examination of the Radicalization Process. Both identify four phases, which begins with pre-radicalization, the period prior to the individual showing any inclination toward extremist Islam. This is followed by the self-identification phase, during which time individuals are influenced by internal and external factors & begin exploring extremist sects of Islam (predominantly Salafi) and gravitate away from their old identity towards individuals with more extreme ideological beliefs as they adopt this ideology as their own. “The catalyst for this ‘religious seeking’ is a cognitive opening, or crisis, which shakes one’s certitude in previously held beliefs.” Indoctrination follows, during which time the individual focuses their time and attention on their faith and spend greater amounts of time with like-minded individuals as a means of strengthening their beliefs. Increased use of the internet is common to this phase as it provides a means to connect to others and learn more about Islam. The last stage, jihadization, begins an individual’s journey as self-professed mujahedeen. Operational planning and preparation go into planning the execution of their plot. A sign of an individual’s decision to commit jihad is their travelling abroad, most likely to a militant training camp. The leaders of the cells often goes to receive training somewhere considered to be within the region containing extremism, predominantly Pakistan, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, or Somalia.[16]

Unlike the radicalization process in the Middle East, which is often triggered by oppression, suffering, a wish for revenge or desperation, Western radicalization is often triggered by a need for identity and path or cause towards which they may work as a means of strengthening their identity, giving them a sense of purpose and making their voice heard in a larger context, especially if they feel marginalized.

Radicalization incubators[edit | edit source]

These catalysts include:

  • Economic- losing a job, blocked mobility
  • Social- real or perceived alienation, discrimination, racism
  • Political- international conflicts involving Muslims with which an individual relates and internalizes as a shared struggle
  • Personal- death in the close family

The first two catalysts are the most prevalent issues in Western Europe as second and third generation Muslims are not all well integrated into European society. Living between the society and practices of their country of origin and secular European society, while not belonging to either, individuals may create their identity by adopting a more radical form of Islam. Additionally, the internal conflict between Islam and secular Europe makes individuals vulnerable, thus providing a means for radical Islam to insinuate itself. Second and third generation Muslims in the U.S. are less susceptible to radical Islam as the U.S. is not as firm in its secularity. However, one’s religious roots and cultural identity sometimes takes precedence over assimilation into American society.[17]

Training[edit | edit source]

Training for potential homegrown terrorists is often very fast paced, even rushed, as some groups under attack by U.S. forces may feel the need to implement operations “more precipitously than they might otherwise occur,” according to Bruce Hoffman. This was the case with the Times Square plot carried out by Faisal Shazad. Tehrik-i-Taliban or Pakistani Taliban (TPP) was on record as providing financing and four months of training for Shazad directly prior to his actions in Times Square. Shazad reportedly only received three to five days of training in bomb-making.

Some individuals go somewhere considered to be within the region containing extremism, predominantly Pakistan, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, or Somalia. In the case of the London Underground bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, the operational leader of the cell, received military and explosives training at a camp in Malakand, Pakistan in July 2003 and later took Shezad Tanweer to Karachi, Pakistan, in late 2004 to February 2005 where they received training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.[18]

Training and usage of recruits is varied. Some like Shazad received little training and ultimately failed in their intent. Others, like sleeper agent David Headley’s reconnaissance efforts were essential towards Lashkar-e-Toiba’s (LeT) success in November 2008 Mumbai attacks. The lone wolves may achieve their objectives, like Abdulhakim Muhammad (née Carlos Bledsoe), who killed a U.S. military recruiter in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Nidal Malik Hasan, but the vast majority of individual operators fail in executing their plans because of lack of training and planning.

Somalian Al-Shabab (“the youth”) recruits heavily in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The 30+ Somali-Americans receive training by senior al-Qaeda leaders in Somalia. Hoffman believes this indicates that radicalization and recruitment is not an isolated, lone wolf phenomenon unique to Somali-Americans, but that there is terrorist recruitment infrastructure in the United States..[19]

Disadvantages[edit | edit source]

Disadvantages faced by potential homegrown terrorists are related to their distance from the Middle East, leaving them still relatively isolated. Their operations are somewhat more ad-hoc and may lack comparable financial backing, training, support network, and specialized expertise that may be found in more centralized members of international organizations, as detailed in the previous section. These shortcomings may limit homegrown terrorists from successfully engaging in independent, large-scale attacks, preferring acts that require less preparation, such as Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s November 5, 2009 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base which killed 13 and wounded 30.

Role of the internet[edit | edit source]

The internet plays a large role in the radicalization process. The internet has a wide appeal as it provides an anonymous way for like-minded, conflicted individuals can meet, form virtual relations, and discuss the radical and extremist ideology they encounter. The virtual network created in message boards or private forums further radicalizes and cements the jihadi-Salafi message individuals have encountered as they build a community. The internet acts as an enabler, providing the aspiring jihadist with a forum in which they may plan, share information on targets, weapons, and recruit others into their plans. Much of the resources needed to make weapons can be found on-line.[20]

Inspire[edit | edit source]

Inspire is an online English-language magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Purported to be created by Samir Khan, a U.S. citizen and cyber-jihadist, the magazine uses American idioms and phrasing and does not appear to have British or South Asian influences in its language.[21]

The magazine contains messages calling for western jihadists, like this one from AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi, to "to acquire weapons and learn methods of war. They are living in a place where they can cause great harm to the enemy and where they can support the Messenger of Allah... The means of harming them are many so seek assistance from Allah and do not be weak and you will find a way.”[21]

STRATFOR suggests that the magazine is meant to help acquaint English-speaking individuals with what to expect when traveling to jihadist training camps in the Middle East. This is the result of reports of Westerners who have gone to these camps and have not had positive experiences during the process. These articles are also designed to decrease shock and depression that may occur and recommends bringing a friend to reduce the loneliness of the new environment and learning the local language.[21]

Examples[edit | edit source]


  • Operation Pendennis: Melbourne & Sydney, November 2005.

Though the prosecution did not convict all men charged in Melbourne and Sydney, it forestalled a planned bombing attack.[22]



The Hamburg terror cell was found to have played a major role in planning the 9/11 attacks in the United States.


A right-wing extremist who spoke against Islam and immigration, Anders Behring Breivik was responsible for a car bomb explosion that killed 8 in Oslo and killing 69 at a summer camp on the island of Utøya.



United Kingdom

United States

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Abu Khawla, “Understanding Homegrown Terrorism,” The American Thinker December 12, 2010, Accessed April 9, 2011. Available on-line: http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/12/understanding_homegrown_terror.html
  2. GovTrack.us. H.R. 1955--110th Congress (2007): Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, GovTrack.us (database of federal legislation) http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?tab=summary&bill=h110-1955.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jerome P. Bjelopera and Mark A. Randol, American Jihadist Terrorism: Combatting a Complex Threat, (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, December 7, 2010). Available on-line: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/R41416.pdf, p. 1.
  4. Alejandro J. Beutel, Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in Western Muslim Communities: Lessons Learned for America, (Minaret of Freedom Institute: August 2007). Available on-line: http://www.minaret.org/MPAC%20Backgrounder.pdf.
  5. Jason Ryan, Pierre Thomas, and Xorje Olivares, “American-bred Terrorism Causing Alarm for Law Enforcement,” ABC News.com July 22, 2010. Available on-line: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/suspected-american-terrorists-islamic-ties-causing-concern-law/story?id=11230885&page=1.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Toni Johnson, "Threat of Homegrown Islamist Terrorism," Council on Foreign Relations, December 10,2010. Available on-line: http://www.cfr.org/terrorism/threat-homegrown-islamist-terrorism/p11509#p4
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, "Assessing the Terrorist Threat," Bipartisan Policy Center, September 10, 2010. Available on-line: http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/NSPG%20Final%20Threat%20Assessment.pdf
  8. Brian Michael Jenkins, "Terrorist Radicalization in the United States Since September 11, 2001," RAND Corporation, 2010. Available on-line: http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/2010/RAND_OP292.pdf
  9. 9.0 9.1 Jordy Yager, "Former intel chief: Homegrown terrorism is a ‘devil of a problem,’" The Hill. July 25, 2010. Available on-line: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/110759-former-intel-chief-homegrown-terrorism-is-a-devil-of-a-problem.
  10. Brendan Carlin and Abul Taher, "Cameron plans to crack down on home-grown terrorism," gulfnews.com, June 6, 2011. Available on-line: http://gulfnews.com/news/world/uk/cameron-plans-to-crack-down-on-home-grown-terrorism-1.817900
  11. Associated Press, “Congressional Panel on Homegrown Terrorism Divided on Discussion,” March 10, 2011. Available on-line: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110310/NEWS08/110310022/2067/Saudi-police-open-fire-during-protest/Congressional-panel-homegrown-terrorism-divided-discussion-?odyssey=mod_sectionstories.
  12. New York Police Department, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” (2007). Available on-line: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/files/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf, p. 36, 40.
  13. Associated Press, “Congressional Panel on Homegrown Terrorism Divided on Discussion,” March 10, 2011. Available on-line: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110310/NEWS08/110310022/2067/Saudi-police-open-fire-during-protest/Congressional-panel-homegrown-terrorism-divided-discussion-?odyssey=mod_sectionstories
  14. Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, (Philadelphia, PA: University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)
  15. New York Police Department, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” (2007). Available on-line: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/files/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf, p. 23
  16. New York Police Department, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” (2007). Available on-line: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/files/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf, p. 22-45.
  17. New York Police Department, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” (2007). Available on-line: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/files/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf, p. 30
  18. Edward McLeskey, Diana McCord, and Jennifer Leetz, “Underlying Reasons for the Success and Failure of Terrorist Attacks.” (Arlington, VA: Homeland Security Institute, June 2007). Available on-line: http://www.homelandsecurity.org/hsireports/Reasons_for_Terrorist_Success_Failure.pdf, p. 33
  19. Hoffman, Bruce, “Internet Terror Recruitment And Tradecraft: How Can We Address An Evolving Tool While Protecting Free Speech?,” House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, May 26, 2010. Available on-line: http://www.homelandsecurity.house.gov/SiteDocuments/20100526101502-95237.pdf.
  20. Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," (NY,NY: New York Police Department, 2007). Available on-line: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/files/NYPD_Report-Radicalization_in_the_West.pdf, p. 8-9.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Scott Stewart, "Fanning the Flames of Jihad." STRATFOR (July 22, 2010). Available on-line: http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100721_fanning_flames_jihad
  22. Karen Kissane, "Tip-off led to intense 16-month investigation," The Age, September 17, 2008. Available on-line: http://www.theage.com.au/national/tipoff-led-to-intense-16month-investigation-20080916-4hxp.html?page=-1.
  23. (AFP) – Mar 9, 2010 (March 9, 2010). "AFP: US 'JihadJane' recruited for Europe, SAsia attacks: charges". Google.com. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gPbyNjzLn1OE8bAMSa6Bsh7o9gPQ. Retrieved April 3, 2010. 
  24. http://www.justice.gov/usao/pae/News/Pr/2010/apr/paulin_indictment.pdf
  25. Alicia A. Caldwell, "Farooque Ahmed Arrested for Plotting DC Terrorist Attack," Huffington Post, October 27, 2010. Available on-line: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/27/farooque-ahmed-arrested-f_n_774841.html

Further reading[edit | edit source]

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