A terrorist threat in our midst?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

As alumni notices go, it was one of the more opaque:

"There are news reports that a Howard University student was arrested on Wednesday overseas. By law, universities must maintain the privacy of student records, and Howard is committed to that.

"There is no evidence of imminent harm to the University community. Students who may be in need of counseling have been advised to contact the University Counseling Center."

As best can be determined, Howard students have not been flocking to the counseling center in search of psychological support. Neither have they taken to their beds with covers over their heads. There's probably plenty of buzz on campus, however, particularly in the university's College of Dentistry.

Ramy Zamzam, a 22-year-old Muslim and Howard dental student of Egyptian background, and four other young American Muslims were arrested in Pakistan this week.

Pakistani law enforcement officials said Zamzam and his friends, all Northern Virginia residents, had met with an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group in Sargodha, a city in the north of Punjab province. They reportedly were seeking training in jihad, which they hoped to wage against American troops in Afghanistan.

According to news accounts, the president of Howard's Muslim Student Association, Samirah Ali, who has known Zamzam for three years, said she never suspected Zamzam would be involved in radical activities. "He's a very nice guy, very cordial, very friendly," she said.

The Post reported that friends and fellow worshipers at the Northern Virginia mosque that the five men attended were incredulous that they had traveled for jihad. The five were described as respectful and devout but not given to radical ideas or beliefs. This refrain is heard frequently in communities where news about possible local jihadists has surfaced. It has been heard in Detroit and Dallas. People have talked about it in Minneapolis and Raleigh, N.C., and at Fort Hood, Tex.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano put a name on it last week. "Home-based terrorism is here," she said in a speech to the America-Israel Friendship League in New York City. "And like violent extremism abroad, it is now part of the threat picture that we must confront," she said.

"We are," Napolitano told the audience, "seeing young Americans who are inspired by al-Qaeda and radical ideology." Some of those U.S. citizens are radicalized abroad or become adherents of violent, extremist ideologies, she said.

That explains why the FBI has been arresting extremist suspects in the cities cited above. Some of those arrested appear to have not been well-trained terrorists but rather radicalized klutzes and hapless al-Qaeda wannabes. Nonetheless, their desires and intentions seemed clear, even if they lacked the means to carry out their plots.

And that is what has animated the conversations where home-based radicals have surfaced. Their presence -- whether they are operating as a pack or as lone wolves -- comes as a surprise. They have materialized as a danger, a serious threat from within, driven by a radical ideology that respects only its adherents.

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