The fact that Muhammad Yusuf, who was arrested yesterday and accused of conspiring to commit a terrorist act in New York, was born in the Dominican Republic and that his pre-conversion name is Jose Pimentel, wasn't ignored in the reports about the failed plot. On the contrary, it appeared mostly on the first paragraphs in the news.
Social media, of course, echoed this same ethnic categorization. On Twitter the hashtag #dominicanterrorist spread, one user writing: "#DominicanTerrorist would probably scream "HOY SE BEBE" before blowing up." Hoy se bebe in Spanish translates to "Today we drink."
Another user wrote: "He must have been deprived of good dominican food/parties to want become a terrorist and bomb NY #DominicanTerrorist lol."
And yet another: "#DominicanTerrorist is what happens when parents let their children hang around too many Puerto Ricans."
In our charged political landscape, the Hispanic identity of the subject will undoubtedly become important in the coming days.
Sure, Pimentel is not the first. Others include also U.S. citizen Abdallah el-Muhajir, or "Ibrahim", née José Padilla, a Brooklyn native of Puerto Rican origin who was suspected of planning to explode a "dirty" (radioactive) bomb in New York in 2002 and convicted in 2007 of supporting terrorism abroad.
And, some other American citizens who crossed the lines and joined al-Quaeda or it's affiliates are White non-Latinos, like John Walker Lindh (Suleiman el-Faris), the American Taliban who was fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan, imprisoned, and tried in a civil court in the United States the next year.
But, how do different ethnicities, and Hispanics in particular, play in this field?
In the February 2010 report "Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim American Communities", scholars from Duke and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzing homegrown terrorism wrote that since 9/11, in the United States "139 Muslim-Americans committed acts of terrorism-related violence or were prosecuted for terrorism-related offenses that involve some element of violence...
Of the 139 terrorists, 47 were born outside of the United States and are either legal residents (25) or citizens (22), while 63 were born here.
"Almost two-thirds of the individuals are U.S.-born (63) or naturalized citizens (22). Twenty-five are legal residents and only 10 were in the United States illegally," says the report.
And when divided by ethnicities, 32 of the offenders are Arab, 24 are African-American, 24 are South Asian, 20 are Somali, and 20 are Caucasian. Just over one-third (47) of the individuals are converts to Islam. Twenty four of the converts are African-American; 10 are Caucasian.
And 3 are Latino.
The report can be read here.
So, that's it: until 18 months ago, just 3 of the 139, about 2% of the homegrown terrorists, were Latinos, while Latinos are about 16% of the population.
The three Latinos in the list are Padilla, Danyel Aljugaifi, and Bryant Neil Viñas. Danyel Aljugaifi, born Daniel Maldonado, born in East Chicago, pled guilty in 2007 to "receiving military training from foreign terrorist organization; conspiring to use explosive device outside US", after receiving training in Somalia, according to the Duke report. And Bryant Neil Viñas, who was convicted in 2009 of giving "material support to al-Quaida", was also U.S.-born. Viñas participated in a rocket attack in Afghanistan.
Pimentel, then, would have been the fourth Latino.
So, if there are "only" four Latinos involved in attacks against the country, why does the arrest of one of them create interest?
In her 2010 paper "Delinquent Citizenship, National Performances: Racialization, Surveillance, and the Politics of 'Worthiness' in Puerto Rican Chicago", Ana Ramos-Zayas noted that in 2002, reporters calling her as a source were tying Jose Padilla's being a Puerto Rican Latino with his decision to support terrorism, since he was "so angry at the United States" because he was "the son of a single mother, growing up in Chicago's Logan Square and being influenced by the barrio's nationalist activism and gang involvement".
"Padilla's involvement with the Taliban," wrote Ramos-Zayas, "was almost explained away by his Puerto Ricanness..."
"More significantly, however, was the... view of Padilla's involvement with the Taliban as a natural progression stemming from his 'un-American' citizenship"... while John Walker was portrayed "as an unexplainable aberration, an exception to the otherwise normative whiteness emphatically represented in images of his upper-middle-class professional suburban upbringing."
In consequence, "citizenship rights are dispensed accordingly so that John Walker's judicial and human rights take precedence over the rights of Jose Padilla, who... basically dissappeared from public view."
The article is part of the reader "Latinos and citizenship: the dilemma of belonging" edited by Suzanne Oboler, and it can be read here.
Pimentel seems to have been only one hour short of detonating a bomb. This fact shows us how vulnerable the civilian population is and how important it is to be alert, in order to prevent terrorism, as well as to prevent its threat from poisoning the fabric of society.
But the fact that he is Latino solely serves to remind us that the rate of Hispanics among convicted terrorists is very low in our country.
Follow Gabriel Lerner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gabrielerner