Terror Threat Grows Quietly, Report Warns

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

The most serious terrorist threat facing the United States cannot be seen by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials, according to a report issued yesterday by the New York City Police Department.

The 90-page report, compiled by two police counterterrorism analysts, argues that the danger posed by homegrown radical Islamists is growing, fueled by Internet communications and the growing global popularity of jihadist ideology.

But the report also concedes that "there is no useful profile . . . to predict who will follow this trajectory of radicalization" because those who end up being radicalized begin as "unremarkable" individuals "from various walks of life."

"The subtle and non-criminal nature of the behaviors involved in the process of radicalization makes it difficult to identify or even monitor from a law enforcement standpoint," the report concludes.

The report is the latest in a long line of statements and analyses from U.S. counterterrorism officials focusing on the perceived threat posed by Islamic radicals within the United States, particularly in light of homegrown terrorist attacks in Europe.

But the report's broad conclusions prompted sharp criticism yesterday from civil liberties and Islamic groups, who said that New York police officials were casting suspicion on all Muslims. For example, the report says that possible "incubators" for radicals include mosques, cafes, cabdriver hangouts, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations and hookah bars.

"Making all Muslims suspects is ethnic profiling, and it's unconstitutional," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly disagreed, telling reporters at a Manhattan news conference: "I don't see this report as stereotyping."

The report by analysts Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt outlines a four-step process, from "pre-radicalization" to "jihadization," that it says is undergone by most terrorists before participating in an attack. The transformation is often triggered by a personal crisis and includes common elements, such as a withdrawal from attending a mosque as the person's isolation increases, the report says.

In a statement included with the New York report, Rand Corp. terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins said that although "radicalization and recruiting are taking place in the United States, there is no evidence of a significant cohort of terrorist operatives" here.

"The absence of significant terrorist attacks or even advanced terrorist plots in the United States since 9/11 is good news that cannot entirely be explained by increased intelligence and heightened security," Jenkins wrote. "It suggests America's Muslim population may be less susceptible than Europe's Muslim population, if not entirely immune to jihadist ideology."

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the report shows that while there may be less extremism in the United States, "we do not believe that America is immune to homegrown terrorism."

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