Since 9/11, some 300 Americans–born and raised in Minnesota, Alabama, New Jersey, and elsewhere–have been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges. Some have taken the fight abroad: Americans were among those who planned the attacks in Mumbai, and more recently a dozen US citizens have sought to join ISIS. Others have acted entirely on American soil. What motivates them, how are they trained, and what do we sacrifice in our aggressive efforts to track them? Paced like a detective story, United States of Jihad tells the entwined stories of the key actors on the American front. Among the perpetrators are Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born radical cleric who became the first American citizen killed by a CIA drone and who mentored the Charlie Hebdo shooters; Samir Khan, whose Inspire webzine has rallied terrorists around the world, including the Tsarnaev brothers; and Omar Hammami, an Alabama native and hip hop fan who became a fixture in al Shabaab’s propaganda videos until fatally displeasing his superiors. Drawing on his extensive network of intelligence contacts, from the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI to the NYPD, journalist and security expert Peter Bergen also offers an inside look at the sometimes controversial tactics of the agencies tracking potential terrorists–from infiltrating mosques to massive surveillance; as well as at the bias experienced by Muslims at the hands of law enforcement and at the critics and defenders of US policies on terrorism.
Jenifer Felton writes for Al Jazeera: “Since 9/11 the FBI has organized more jihadist terrorist plots in the United States than any other organization,” national security expert Peter Bergen writes in his new book, “United States of Jihad.” He backs that startling claim by noting that Al-Qaeda’s core group in Pakistan attempted six attacks here, its Yemen branches mounted two and the Pakistan Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate attempted one each. But the New York Police Department staged three plots, and the FBI orchestrated 30 — in sting operations.
Bergen’s book provides sobering reading in a feverish U.S. political climate in which politicians seek to paint Syrian refugees and other Muslims entering the country as potential threats. Americans remain more afraid of terrorism than they ought to be, Bergen has said in interviews promoting the book, “You’re 5,000 times more likely to be killed by a fellow American with a gun than you are to be killed by a jihadi terrorist in this country.”
Of the 330 people charged with terrorism-related crimes since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bergen reports, 80 percent were U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Many of them were influenced by U.S. born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who became a key figure in Al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate and was extrajudicially executed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Eighty of the 330 people convicted had Awlaki’s writings or sermons in their possession, or cited him as being an influence. Seven more had been in contact with him directly, some even traveling to Yemen to meet him.
But psychological profiles found no abnormalities and few common features among those charged with such crimes, and authorities see a growing threat of “leaderless jihad.” Bergen describes “jihadists” as those who have adopted “Binladenism,” the dogma laid out by the founder of Al-Qaeda. Every fatal “jihadist” attack in the U.S. after 9/11, he says, was carried out by a lone wolf, a person who commits acts linked to an ideology but who operates outside of — or does not receive orders from — a group.
Lucid, rigorously researched, and packed with fascinating new details, United States of Jihad is the definitive account of the Americans who have embraced militant Islam both here and abroad.
As the Los Angeles Times recorded:
“Peter Bergen… one of America’s most prominent terrorism experts, makes a compelling and often unsettling case that, in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, Islamist terrorism in the United States has metamorphosed… The transformation of domestic jihadism has not only dispersed the Islamist terrorist threat but in a perverse process of cultural intermingling has partly Americanized jihad itself. The ‘soft power’ appeal of American culture is often considered to be one of this country’s most enduring assets, but the new admixture of jihadi terror and pop culture savoir faire potentially turns this idea on its head… Bergen takes a generally skeptical view of the growth of the post-9/11 national security state and of the fear-mongering about Islam that has increasingly transfixed the darker crannies of American politics. This skepticism, I think, is not only strategically and morally sound but also borne out by the facts.”
Not everyone is a fan of Peter Bergen’s writing.
One Amazon reviewer wrote: “Perhaps well written but so far from reality, I wonder if he gets out. ISIS did not exist 4 yrs. ago. Left vehicles gassed and loaded with weapons and a black flag in every vehicle. 28,000+ bombs (from the CFR) dropped on Islamic countries in 2015, less than 50 Americans killed by terrorist act since Sept. 01. Who is the attacker? Children: Crippled, maimed, orphaned, raped, murdered, starved, for money; 3 million women and children. Any American not radicalized by this foreign policy of invasion and occupation is cold and callous like Bergen. I think he was paid by the US State Dept.; this is the arrogant complacent fringe who, like “Snow White’s” Witch will soon be learning the truth of what most of America sees in the mirror. Peter Bergen needs to get out among his countrymen, or read history.”