Fort Hood attack is 3rd this year by antiwar radicals targeting military on U.S. soil

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By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009; 4:53 PM

The Fort Hood attack is the third instance this year in which American military personnel in the United States have been targeted by people reportedly opposed to U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism experts said.

Investigators are seeking to determine the motivations of the Fort Hood suspect, Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, in part to understand whether his alleged actions fit in with what experts see as an emerging pattern of plots developed by U.S. citizens or residents rather than foreign attackers.

Federal prosecutors in September charged two North Carolina men for allegedly conspiring to kill personnel at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, seeking to attack U.S. forces at home if they could not overseas. In June, Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, an American Muslim convert, allegedly shot and killed one soldier and wounded another at a military recruiting center at Little Rock, Ark., in what he said was retaliation for U.S. counterterrorism policies worldwide.

Also this year, the last of five men was sentenced in April to 33 years in prison for planning to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., a plot inspired by foreign terrorist groups.

Overall, U.S. authorities have disclosed at least 10 domestic terrorist cases in the last year -- the most since 2001 -- in what analysts say is a disturbing spike that suggests the likelihood of incidents is growing. The suspects range from unskilled individuals ensnared in FBI stings after trying to obtain guns and explosives to people allegedly trained in Pakistan by al-Qaeda and preparing homemade bombs like those used in terrorist attacks in London and Madrid.

Terrorism analysts say that the would-be assailants in such plots are not foreign infiltrators, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, but instead are U.S. citizens or residents motivated to violence on their own or by self-initiated contact with al-Qaeda and similar groups.

Bruce Hoffman, professor of security studies at Georgetown University, said the very diversity of cases and the complex stew of anger, fear or religious zeal said to inspire them makes it harder to define the problem and decide what to do about it, even as threats grow more common.

"I'm not saying it's part of an organized campaign or a systematic strategy, but we're seeing a sea change when we have once a month a plot that is related somehow to Afghanistan, Iraq or what these people see is a war against Islam," Hoffman said. "It's too easy to dismiss them as unstable individuals when they have expressed strong religious beliefs with politics. That's the essence of the radicalization we're facing."

Several U.S. counterterrorism officials contacted Thursday said it was too early to draw conclusions about the Fort Hood investigation.

One senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was just beginning, played down the prospect of any broader initiative to weaken U.S. troop morale or Americans' support for the fighting, saying he did not think there were any specific warnings to military installations or similar facilities of this type of an attack.

Frank Cilluffo, a former Bush White House aide who now leads George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute, drew a wide distinction between unsophisticated individuals who might want to attack U.S. interests -- such as four American Muslims who converted in prison and then allegedly asked FBI informants for explosives to bomb Jewish centers in the Bronx in April-- and those who engaged in detailed training and planning with al-Qaeda operatives overseas and sought to recruit others -- such as Najibullah Zazi, a Denver airport shuttle driver arrested Sept. 19 after allegedly assembling bombmaking materials and driving to New York City, or Bryant Neal Vinas, a New York native who pleaded guilty in January and is cooperating with U.S. authorities after being captured in Pakistan.

Part of the rise in recent cases might simply result from more investigative work or stings by the FBI and other agencies, Cilluffo added.

In addition to the Bronx case, U.S. authorities in September charged Hosam Maher Smadi and Michael C. Finton for allegedly asking FBI informants separately for help to attack a Dallas skyscraper and federal building in Springfield, Ill. Last month, authorities also charged Tarek Mehanna of Boston, whom they accused of talking about attacking shopping malls and plotting to train with terrorists in Yemen.

Separately this year, U.S. authorities have charged several Somali American youths with going overseas to train with an Islamic extremist insurgency in Somalia that is affiliated with al-Qaeda, and two men from the Chicago area last week who allegedly met with a Qaeda-linked Pakistani separatist group to attack targets in Denmark.

"I don't know how much of this is we're getting better at flushing these guys out," Cilluffo said. "There's no shortage of intent. . . . Once you have foreign training, once you have linkages to [al-Qaeda] leadership and others, obviously, that changes the ballgame dramatically."

In some ways, Fort Hood investigators face a challenge that parallels what investigators encountered after the bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, trying to determine what motivated bombers Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols and whether they were part of a larger threat. McVeigh , a former Army officer with a distinguished record who later came to spent time with militia groups, eventually struck out on his own after finding they lacked his willingness to commit violence.

"I do not know if it is a current or a lasting trend," Cilluffo said, "but obviously it is something we need to be concerned about, because some folks obviously won't be on our radar screen."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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