Since the death of Osama bin Laden, security analysts have been anxiously surveying the prospects for new terrorist threats.
Writing in the journal National Interest (May/June), terrorism analyst Jessica Stern writes that contrary to the message of the recent Congressional hearings on Islamic extremism, most threats come not from “radicalized” mosques and clerics as much as from alienated youth with tenuous ties, both ethnically and socially, to the established American Muslim community. Stern writes that Al-Qaeda has been targeting American youth in its publications (even publishing the magazine Awake to radicalize youth), encouraging them to act on their own at home.
The strategy is bearing fruit, as Stern recounts a roster of recent “lone wolf” terrorist actions that has expanded since 2009. The pattern somewhat resembles European terrorist actions in that the perpetrators are delinquent youth from a disenfranchised ethnic group (along with a high number of converts). In this case, several of the American terrorists are children of Somali immigrants who came to the U.S. as refugees from the civil war raging in their country; many of them have also been recruited by the Somalia-based extremist group known as Al-Shabaab. Unlike earlier Muslim immigrant groups, Somali Americans have the highest rates of unemployment and lowest rates of college education among the East African diaspora.
While some of these young Somalis come from traumatic backgrounds, even those who are more integrated into American society have been susceptible to the call to extremism. Stern concludes by criticizing the recent attempt to to scrutinize the American Muslim community, especially since Muslims have been important sources of information in tracking down terrorists. She cites a recent study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security showing that of the plots thwarted since 9/11, Muslim citizens provided critical information to the law-enforcement community 40 percent of the time.
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