Study: US terror suspects mostly young men


Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.

A study released Wednesday of American Muslims and homegrown terror found that most of the publicly known cases since the Sept. 11 attacks involved young men who were U.S.-born or naturalized citizens. More than half of the suspects were radicalized as part of a group.

The analysis by researchers from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found the accused were almost evenly divided in terms of ethnicity.

Although Arabs formed the largest group of suspects, their numbers were only slightly higher than African-Americans, South Asians, Somalis and whites. About a third were converts to Islam.

The statistics were part of a report, "Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans," that aimed to learn why American Muslims seem less prone to extremism than Muslims in Europe and elsewhere.

The researchers concluded that American Muslim self-policing has helped stem radicalization.

Using a broad definition of homegrown terror, the report identified 139 American Muslims who were accused in the last eight years of planning or carrying out violent attacks motivated by extremism. The cases include Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, charged with the Fort Hood mass shooting last November, and the five young men from Virginia who were recently arrested in Pakistan, allegedly on their way to get terrorist training and join the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The largest number of cases by far occurred last year, with a total of 41 suspects, although researchers say it's too early to know if that is an aberration or a trend. The 2009 increase is partly due to the cases of young Somali-Americans in Minneapolis believed to have joined Somalia's al-Shabab jihadist, or holy war, movement, the report's authors said. U.S. Muslims accused of sending money to overseas terrorist groups were not part of the study.

Even with the common threads among the cases, researchers said they found no definitive pattern of how the accused were radicalized and no geographic center of extremism in the U.S.

In addition to reviewing criminal cases, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with more than 120 American Muslims in Houston; Seattle; Buffalo, N.Y.; and around Raleigh and Durham in North Carolina. Each of the four areas had some cases of alleged radicalization.

The study found that the planned targets of most of the violent plots were overseas. Seventy percent of the conspiracies were pre-empted by law enforcement well before anyone was hurt.

All but one of the suspects were male and most were under age 30. Most were U.S.-born, naturalized citizens or legal residents of the country.

The report urges civil authorities to increase their support for American Muslims who are starting youth groups, building Islamic schools and starting other projects that reinforce the message that extremism is contrary to Islam. The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Justice Department.

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