We have spent several trillion dollars in the Global War on Terror and we finally got Osama bin Laden. Many people were surprised that OBL was living in a million-dollar compound, and not in a cave. But it wasn't much of a surprise to intelligence officials or people who study this issue.
The notion that we found OBL living in an urban setting, surrounded by military officers at a local base, outside the capital of Pakistan says a lot about what we consider conventional wisdom with respects to terrorists' hideouts.
The question that security officials are asking is: what's next? What can we expect in terms of terrorism, and where can we expect it to come from?
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq aren't the only places we can find terrorists. The next terrorist training hot spot is widely considered by experts to be Yemen.
Yemen is a country of only 7 million inhabitants and no particular importance. Little is known of Yemen by most Americans. Most people can't find Yemen on a map or name its most recent president -- Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Yemen is a completely failed state and its government barely controls just one city, the capitol, Sanna. Outside of the Sanna, there is no law and terrorist training camps are popping up everywhere. Yemen shares a lot in common with the Afghan-Pakistan border: it is lawless, it has little to no infrastructure, it has many places for terrorists to hide, and a population that either supports them or is afraid to oppose them. Yemen appears to be a perfect safe haven for terrorists.
But are the caves of Afghanistan, war-ravaged Iraq, and the lawless lands of Yemen the only safe-havens for terrorists?
No; not at all.
Considering OBL was found living in a suburban community for several years, we can't just look to war-ravaged or least developed countries and regions of the world to find terrorists. Societies that have secular laws, a well-built infrastructure and reliable internet are also safe havens for terrorists. As it turns out, we find that the threat of homegrown terrorists in Western countries is on the rise.
The terrorist train attack in Madrid of 2004 and subway and bus terrorist attacks in London of 2005 were the result of "home grown" terrorists who had no connection to Iraq or Afghanistan but claim to have been embittered by Spain's and England's policies towards Muslims and support for the U.S.
In the United States, the FBI and local police have broken up dozens of terrorist's plans. We have been lucky in some cases (i.e. the Shoe Bomber of 2001, the Times Square car bomb of 2010), but unlucky in others (i.e. the Fort Hood attack of 2009, the anthrax attack of 2001, the Beltway Sniper of 2002).
We need only to look to Virginia born Nidal Hassan in the domestic Fort Hood attacks, or Oregon born Adam Gadahn and New Mexico born Anwar al-Awlaki to find terrorists of U.S. origin operating abroad.
President Bush used to say that terrorists hate freedom; actually, terrorists use freedom, need freedom and have exploited freedom in places like Madrid, London and the U.S., to name a few.
Terrorists know that Western countries offer protections that they need to operate. Countries that protect free speech and the right own guns, allow for easy access to bomb-making materials, and reliable internet connections to spread propaganda, training ideas or plan terrorist plots make for ideal safe havens for terror training and planning.
Just like there is no one cause or solution to crime or illness, there is also no one cause or solution to terrorism, whether terrorists are found at home or abroad. Conventional wisdom holds that radical propaganda, religious extremism, and fanatical nationalism are inspirations that contribute to terrorists' motivations. However, analysts increasingly find that some short-sighted national policies are bound to have unintended consequences and can inspire -- but don't create -- home grown terrorists.
The point here is to note that the conventional wisdom that asserts that terrorists hide in caves, or that they are underprivileged Muslims from authoritarian regimes, is outdated. Terrorists are increasingly found residing in civilized societies including Western societies, and they can come from virtually anywhere, including the USA.
Paul Heroux lived and worked in the Middle East, has a master's in international relations, and is graduate of Harvard University's School of Government. He can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.