A spike in terrorism cases involving U.S. citizens is challenging long-held assumptions that Muslims in Europe are more susceptible to radicalization than their better-assimilated counterparts in the United States.
Four investigations disclosed in the past 12 months, including the arrests of five Northern Virginia men in Pakistan this week, underscore what the Obama administration asserts is a domestic threat emanating from Americans training overseas with al-Qaeda and related terrorist groups in Pakistan. "We have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror," President Obama said this month in announcing plans to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
American Muslim organizations, jolted by the spate of cases, are abandoning their hesitation to speak out about the issue. While underlining that only a tiny minority has become radicalized, two major groups -- the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- said this week that they would launch counter-radicalization programs aimed at young people.
Several U.S. and international terrorism analysts say that American Muslims, as a group, remain more prosperous, assimilated and moderate than those in Europe. But the analysts also note that immigration trends, the global spread of a militant Islamism and controversial actions by the United States and its allies since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks increase the chances that U.S. Muslims could carry out a domestic attack.
"The U.S. is experiencing what countries like the U.K. have gone through several years ago," said Sajjan Gohel, director of international security at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a research organization in London. "The worry for the U.S. is there will be a similar blow-back of homegrown terrorism."
Before 2004, Britons in terrorist training abroad looked for overseas targets such as Israel or South Asia, Gohel said. Over the next two years, as British troops fought alongside Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain was stunned by at least four bomb plots by Britons linked to al-Qaeda -- and the July 7, 2005, attack on the London transit system that killed 52 people.
"As we continue to get enmeshed in these conflicts, it's naive to think our population is not going to be affected by the global rhetoric surrounding this," said Christine Fair, a Georgetown University professor specializing in Pakistan...Correctumundo, Ms. Fair. Here, there and everywhere in between, it's the same jihad.