This paper examines the extent of jihadist radicalization in the United States, discusses who is being recruited, and assesses the domestic terrorist threat posed by the recruits. It then looks at how the recruits were identified by U.S. authorities and asks what this means for domestic counterterrorist strategy. The findings should be of interest to local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities.
Between September 11, 2001, and the end of 2009, 46 publicly reported cases of domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism occurred in the United States; 13 of those cases occurred in 2009. Most of the would-be jihadists were individuals who recruited themselves into the terrorist role. Some provided assistance to foreign terrorist organizations; some went abroad to join various jihad fronts; some plotted terrorist attacks in the United States, usually with little success because of intervention by the authorities. The threat of large-scale terrorist violence has pushed law enforcement toward prevention rather than criminal apprehension after an event—or, as one senior police official put it, “staying to the left of the boom,” which means stopping the explosions or attacks before they occur. This shift toward prevention requires both collecting domestic intelligence—always a delicate mission in a democracy— and maintaining community trust and cooperation.