NEW YORK — Average citizens who quietly band together and adopt radical ways pose a mounting threat to American security that could exceed that of established terrorist groups like al-Qaida, a new police analysis has concluded.
The New York Police Department report released Wednesday describes a process in which young men — often legal immigrants from the Middle East who are frustrated with their lives in their adopted country — adopt a philosophy that puts them on a path to violence.
The report was intended to explain how people become radicalized rather than to lay out specific strategies for thwarting terror plots. It calls for more intelligence gathering, and argues that local law enforcement agencies are in the best position to monitor potential terrorists.
“Hopefully, the better we’re informed about this process, the more likely we’ll be to detect and disrupt it,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said during a briefing with private security executives at police headquarters.
Internet stokes 'wandering mind'
The study is based on an analysis of a series of domestic plots thwarted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including those in Lackawanna, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; and Virginia. It was prepared by senior analysts with the NYPD Intelligence Division who traveled to Hamburg, Madrid and other overseas spots to confer with authorities about similar cases.
The report found homegrown terrorists often were indoctrinated in local “radicalization incubators” that are “rife with extremist rhetoric.”
Instead of mosques, those places were more likely to be “cafes, cab driver hangouts, flop houses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah bars, butcher shops and bookstores,” the report says.
The Internet also provides “the wandering mind of the conflicted young Muslim or potential convert with direct access to unfiltered radical and extremist ideology.”
“The Internet is the new Afghanistan,” Kelly said. “It is the de facto training ground. It’s an area of concern.”
Four stages to radicalization
The report identified the four stages to radicalization as pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and jihadization, and said the Internet drove and enabled the process.
Radicalization could be triggered by such things as the loss of a job, the death of a close family member, alienation, discrimination, and international conflicts involving Muslims, said the report by senior NYPD intelligence analysts.
“Much different from the Israeli-Palestinian equation, the transformation of a Western-based individual to a terrorist is not triggered by oppression, suffering, revenge or desperation,” it said.
“Rather, it is a phenomenon that occurs because the individual is looking for an identity and a cause and unfortunately, often finds them in extremist Islam,” said the report “Radicalization in the West: The Home-grown Threat.”
The threat posed by homegrown extremists — from “eco-terrorist” groups to neo-Nazis — has long been a top concern for federal counterterror officials.
While economic opportunities in the United States are better and the country’s Muslims are more resistant to Islamist extremism, they are “not immune to the radical message,” the report says. “The powerful gravitational pull of individuals’ religious roots and identity sometimes supersedes the assimilating nature of American society.”
Recently, authorities have taken a closer look at radicalization happening in U.S. prisons, where a study last year by George Washington University and the University of Virginia found that Islamic extremists were turning jail cells into terrorist breeding grounds by preaching violent interpretations of the Quran to their fellow inmates.
Additionally, the Justice Department last year indicted 28-year-old Adam Gadahn, who was raised on a farm in southern California, with treason and supporting terrorism for serving as an al-Qaida propagandist.
Gadahn is believed to have tried to recruit supporters through videos and messages posted on the Internet.
Critics: Report ‘plays into extremists’ plans’
The NYPD report warns that more intelligence gathering is needed since most potential homegrown terrorists “have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble,” the study says.
They “look, act, talk and walk like everyone around them,” the study adds. “In the early stages of their radicalization, these individuals rarely travel, are not participating in any kind of militant activity, yet they are slowly building the mind-set, intention and commitment to conduct jihad.”
Kareem Shora, legal adviser for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the findings faulty and potentially inflammatory.
Police “paint such a broad brush,” Shora said. “It plays right into the extremists’ plans because it’s going to end up angering the community.”
A recently released National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Osama bin Laden’s network had regrouped and remains the most serious threat to the United States.
Kelly insisted the NYPD report made no effort to provide a “cookie-cutter” profile for terrorists. He also argued that the NYPD report “doesn’t contradict the National Intelligence Estimate — it augments it.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.