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Our counterterrorism blind spot: stopping American terrorists

By Chris Carter and Shawn Moore

US citizen Majid Khan went to Pakistan to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (photo). The sheikh is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks; he is currently awaiting trial. This photo was an exhibit in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui who was convicted on terrorism charges and is currently serving a life sentence. (Photo, US Government)This week the Department of Justice announced that our intelligence community foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. While our counterterrorism strategy is successful at preventing terrorist plots from foreign sources, it fails to stop the flow of American citizens committing terrorist attacks abroad.

Since 9/11 the United States has prevented or disrupted 39 known terrorist plots – 40 counting the foiled Iranian plot. We have also curtailed the transfer of material support to foreign terrorist groups.

But the flow of potential U.S. terrorists is much harder to monitor and regulate. Increased airport security, increased law enforcement, intelligence liaisons abroad, and heightened citizen awareness of suspicious behaviors have been unsuccessful at stopping U.S. citizens from engaging in terrorist acts abroad.

On Oct. 29, 2008, 26-year-old Shirwa Ahmed drove his Toyota Land Cruiser through the streets of Hargesa, Somalia. Arriving at his target, Ahmed detonated his suicide truck bomb, killing 29. The naturalized U.S. citizen from Minneapolis became America’s first known suicide bomber.

Ahmed's attack is far from an isolated incident.

In Sept. 2009, another Somali-American detonated another suicide truck bomb in Somalia, killing 21 UN peacekeepers and civilians.

Abdullahi Ahmed became the third Somali-American suicide bomber when he killed two soldiers manning an African Union checkpoint in June.

David Headley, a U.S. citizen, performed surveillance of locations in Mumbai, India for the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba in advance of the Nov. 2008 attack, killing 164 and wounding over 300.

In 2009, five Virginians left to join the Pakistani Taliban and fight in jihad. Pakistani authorities arrested the men as they attempted to join an al Qaeda camp.

Majid Khan, another U.S. citizen, traveled to Pakistan to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who at that time was in charge of propaganda and operations for al Qaeda. Khan volunteered to carry out a suicide attack against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. While in Pakistan, Khan was arrested by security services, turned over to the CIA and later transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

In addition to being unable to stop terrorists before they leave, the U.S. harbors terrorist groups as well. Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani established Jamaat ul-Fuqra (JuF) while visiting New York in 1980. The terrorist group is banned in Pakistan, and is responsible for more attacks against the U.S. than any other terrorist group – even Al Qaeda.

Although JuF members conduct illegal weapons and tactical training on dozens of compounds scattered across the country, they also send members to camps in Pakistan for advanced training. JuF members have conducted attacks in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kashmir, Bosnia, and Chechnya.

If this trend continues unabated, the successes we have enjoyed over the past 10 years could vanish. Diplomatic ties with allies could be strained . Nations attacked from groups operating inside the United States could want access to those individuals and training facilities. Any resistance by our legal system would create the perception that our nation is only interested in counterterrorism when we are the victims. Should the flow of U.S. terrorists not be curtailed, travel of American citizens could be restricted. And how can we credibly lead a war against terrorists when we can't stop terrorists in our own country?

To be as successful in stopping the export of terrorism as we are in stopping its import, we must be equally vigilant. This can be accomplished without stripping civil liberties – it's just going to take diligence from our domestic services and law enforcement officers. The Constitution grants us freedom of religion, but it does not allow citizens to use religion as a cover in order to commit crimes in the U.S. and abroad. It's not hard to determine which Muslims are worshiping within their rights and which are going outside their constitutional protections. We just need to peel back the political correctness that has prevented intelligence and law enforcement from doing their job.

Related Links

Interim Report on Jamaat ul-Fuqra (Victory Institute)

Florida imams' arrests prove Dr. Phares' claims on mosques (The US Report)

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