‘Homegrown terrorism’ case -- and its defendants -- are typical


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When three young Muslim men from North Carolina were convicted in a federal terrorism conspiracy case Thursday, the outcome followed a well-established pattern in so-called homegrown terrorism prosecutions.

The three men -- Omar Aly Hassan, 22, Ziyad Yaghi, 21, and Hysen Sherifi, 24 -- were not accused of committing a terrorist attack. The three were convictedinstead of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Yaghi and Sherifi were also convicted of conspiring to kill unspecified people as part of a terrorist plot cut short by the men’s arrests in 2009.


Based on the results of a recent study of domestic Islamic terrorism cases, the three Muslims from the Raleigh, N.C., area are fairly typical of other Americans charged or convicted of jihadist terrorism in the post-Sept. 11 era.

For instance, 184 of the 188 terrorism cases studied involved no actual attacks.

The study, released in March by the New American Foundation and Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy, looked at the 188 cases of American citizens or U.S. residents charged in jihadist terrorism plots in the U.S. since Sept. 11. The study’s opening sentence asks: ‘How real is the ‘homegrown’ Islamic terrorist threat?’

Of the four cases that did progress to attacks, the worst was at Ft. Hood, Texas, where Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is suspected of killing 13 people and wounding 32 in 2009.

(By comparison, the study points out that 73 people were killed in hate crimes in the U.S. between 2001 and 2009 -- and more than 15,000 slayings are committed in this country every year.)

A third of the 188 cases involved the use of an informant, the study found.

In the North Carolina case, the FBI recruited and paid three informants -- including a convicted felon -- and code-named them Jawbreaker, Hammerhead and Crosstown. Investigators amassed more than 750 hours of audio or videotaped conversations. In some, the suspects praised jihad and suicide bombings, and spoke of killing non-Muslims.

Half the defendants in the 188 cases were U.S.-born American citizens. A third were U.S. residents. Hassan and Yaghi are U.S. citizens. Sherifi, a native of Kosovo, is a legal permanent resident of the U.S.


In a third of the cases, defendants trained with weapons or attempted to acquire or manufacture weapons (though not a single case involved chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons). The North Carolina men were convicted of providing material support to terrorists, in part, by firing weapons in a farm field -- which prosecutors successfully argued constituted military training.

One-fifth of the cases originated with tips from Muslim community members or stemmed from cooperation of the families of accused terrorists. According to the survey’s authors, tips from Muslim communities and families alerted authorities to the activities of Daniel Boyd, an American–born convert to Islam, identified as the ringleader of the North Carolina case.

Two-thirds of defendants in the cases studied had pursued some college courses. The three North Carolina men had taken courses at technical, community or four-year colleges.

Finally, the study found that the number of Islamic terrorism cases involving U.S. citizens or residents has risen sharply in the last two years. There were 76 such cases in 2009 and 2010 alone -- or 40% of all cases since the Sept. 11 attacks.


Op-Ed: How not to catch a terrorist

After 9/11: Thinking outside the ‘Muslim bubble’

Counter-terrorism becomes part of law enforcement

-- David Zucchino in New Bern, N.C.