My Fox | May 4, 2011
Homegrown terrorism the biggest threat to U.S.
Tucson: The Birthplace of Al-Qaeda in America: MyFoxPHOENIX.com
Published : Wednesday, 04 May 2011, 10:49 PM MDT
TUCSON - Even though Osama bin Laden is dead, the war on terror is far from over. The most recent worry is homegrown terrorism inspired by al Qaeda -- but not directed by it -- and it may be the most difficult threat America has faced since 9-11.
His name is Anwar Al-Awlaki, the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen. He's been mentioned more than once as a possible replacement for Osama bin Laden.
What isn't mentioned often is that Al-Awlaki was born and raised in nearby New Mexico.
"Clearly Anwar Al-Awlaki has become one of the, if not the most dangerous jihadi on the internet and globally, but I think he should be a case study about what we can learn about radicalization on our soil," says M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
Dr. Jasser is a Phoenix physician who served for 11 years in the Navy.
"We formed our forum to promote our primary mission, which is the separation of mosque and state."
He's also a devout Muslim, who is worried about the recruitment of Islamic radicals on American soil.
"Remember right now Al-Awlaki not only radicalized Nidal Hassan, he radicalized Abdulmutallab, the Christmas bomber, he has radicalized a number of others that are becoming threats."
Nidal Hassan was the U.S. Army major who killed 13 and wounded 30 at Fort Hood in 2009. It was shown that he exchanged e-mails with Al-Awlaki just before the shooting.
"After the Fort Hood incident we had five young Muslim Americans, all were born and raised in the United States, and they were captured in Pakistan trying to join a terrorist organization to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan," says terrorism consultant Patrick Poole, who earned his credentials by exposing a cleric from Hamas preaching at a mosque in Hilliard, Ohio.
"The FBI had no idea he was there," he says.
Poole was in Phoenix recently to warn lawmakers about homegrown terror here.
Arizona has a long history of being a hotbed of terrorist activity, particularly al Qaeda -- including an infamous first.
"The first al Qaeda cell in the United States was located right here in Arizona in Tucson," says Poole.
The 9-11 commission report contains 59 references to terrorist activity in Arizona. It also mentioned the existence of a CIA/FBI report titled "Arizona's Long Range Nexus for Islamic Extremists." The report has still not been made public.
"We have a number of examples of terrorist operatives who have crossed the border."
According to Poole, our state's border with Mexico is apparently attracting terrorist infiltrators.
"We also know that back in June 2010, two terrorist operatives out of Bangladesh were arrested attempting to cross the border in Naco," says Poole.
But it's been the dramatic increase in homegrown terror that worries Poole the most.
"In the past year what we've seen is a full out effort by al Qaeda to recruit Americans… not just with Anwar Al-Awlaki and his internet postings and internet videos, but al Qaeda itself under Al-Awlaki auspices has been producing magazines English language magazines called Inspire."
Dr. Jasser testified at recent congressional hearings on Islamic radicalization.
"Until we have an ideological offense into the Muslim communities, domestically and globally, to teach liberty, to teach separation of mosque and state, you are not going to solve this problem," he said.
It was a controversial gathering that drew the ire of some.
"There is nothing radical or un-American about holding these hearings," said Rep. Peter King, New York Republican.
But from the failed plot in Portland to blow up this Christmas tree, to the attempted car bombing of time square, lawmakers pointed to the data. 41 plots since January 2009 -- all with direct links between Americans and known terrorist groups.
Will home grown terrorists like Anwar Al-Awlaki continue to spring up and fill the void left by bin Laden's death? Or will the world can finally turn the corner on Islamic extremism -- and end the war on terror?
"You are not going to affect in any way the radicalization of Muslim youth who are getting pulled in by imams like Awlaki until you start to have forward ideas to their communities to their mindset, which are Islamic but also based on liberty and freedom," says Dr. Jasser.