- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -
It has been a recurring nightmare of American counter-terrorist officials for years — growing numbers of home-grown al Qaeda recruits drawn from the Muslim-American community, plus blue-eyed, blond-haired would-be suicide bombers travelling on American passports.
That notion clashes with the widely-held belief that Muslims in the United States are not nearly as prone to being seduced by Al Qaeda propaganda as their co-religionists in Europe. But a series of recent terrorism cases involving American citizens have challenged old assumptions and thrown question marks over a host of surveys meant to show the American Muslim communities’ resistance to radicalization.
Incidents spiked in 2009 and included the arrest of five U.S. citizens in Pakistan, where they allegedly tried to link up with extremists, and the arrest of Daniel Boyd, a white convert to Islam who was accused of plotting to attack soldiers at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Early in the year, Bryant Vinas, a Hispanic American convert, pleaded guilty to having trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Now, the lure of al Qaeda’s murderous ideas is seen as a real threat. “The group seeks to recruit American citizens to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States,” according to John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “These Americans are not necessarily of Arab and South Asian descent,” he wrote in the preface of a Jan. 20 report from his committee on al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia. “They include individuals who converted to Islam in (an American) prison or elsewhere and were radicalized.”
“The prospect that U.S. citizens are being trained at al Qaeda camps in both countries deepens our concern…” not least, apparently, because an American official in Yemen told committee investigators that American converts living in Yemen included “blond-haired blue-eyed types.” That echoes then CIA chief Michael Hayden’s 2008 warning that al Qaeda was training “operatives that wouldn’t attract attention if they were going through the customs line at (Washington) Dulles airport.”