So what's with all the terrorism related arrests lately? The recent shootout with FBI agents and a radical Detroit imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah and the arrest of seven of his followers makes this the sixth case, that we know of, this year.
How are we to understand the seeming explosion of homegrown terrorism? Has the terrorism threat finally caught up to us after almost nine years of no attacks on US soil?
Turns out - while homegrown terrorism is dangerous and serious- it may not be the greatest threat per se.
Read my take on it in a recent Boston Globe oped, "The Threat of Homegrown Terrorism?"
In it I argue:
The pattern of terrorism arrests since 9/11 seems to support the argument that homegrown radicalism is the greatest threat the United States faces and that Al Qaeda has lost its capability to carry out direct attacks outside of its Afghanistan-Pakistan operating base. But just because homegrown plots constitute the majority of those uncovered doesn't mean that homegrown terrorism is the greatest threat. Many of the homegrown plots have been all talk and little action. Even if the plots were executed, they would have been limited in scope - small explosive and ambush attacks or targeted killings. Mehana allegedly plotted to ambush and shoot shoppers at a mall. While it would have been a tragic incident, it would be nowhere near the scale of 9/11 or the Mumbai attacks.
Homegrown radicals aren't able to carry out the sophisticated, coordinated attacks that pose the greatest danger.
There is a limitation on what homegrown plotters can achieve without training and access to networks abroad. Though much has been made of instructional video and propaganda and bomb-making instructions on the Internet, would-be homegrown terrorists without proper explosives training are more likely to blow off their hands as they are to build a proper bomb.
Homegrown radicals only become a significant threat when they are able to connect with militant radical groups with significant experience. Anyone can become influenced by militant ideology and change from a middle-class college student to a would-be terrorist. But unless these individuals have access to organized terrorist networks, they are limited to what they can do.