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Duke, UNC study explores roots of homegrown terrorism

Posted January 6, 2010

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— A new study on homegrown terror found that most American Muslims who planned violent attacks in since 2001 were young, male U.S. citizens who became radical as part of a group.

Still, researchers seeking lessons on preventing extremism found no definitive pattern of how the suspects turned to violence and no geographic center of radicalization in the U.S.

Duke University Professor David Schanzer was among the professors from Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who tallied homegrown terror cases since the Sept. 11 attacks and found 139 American Muslims had been publicly accused of planning or carrying out violence motivated by extremism. 

Schanzer says most suspects were U.S.-born, naturalized citizens or legal residents of the country. Although Arabs formed the largest group of suspects, the accused were almost evenly divided in terms of ethnicity.

"Almost equal numbers were Arab, Somali, there are some white Muslim Americans,” Schanzer said.

About a third of the suspects were converts to Islam.

Jihad Shawwa, an official with the Muslim American Public Affairs Council, says the terrorist stigma is hard on the Muslim community, which is racially diverse.

"You have got Mexican Muslims, you have got black, or African-American Muslims. You got Muslims from Nigeria. ... And you want to be part of the community,” Shawwa said.

Funded by the National Institute of Justice, a division of the U.S. Justice Department, researchers found homegrown terror can stem from anger over U.S. foreign policy and feeling alienated due to intense suspicion of Muslims in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 strikes.

"The isolation can lead your mind to a lot of bad things to happen, as a matter of fact, it is just like you are in a prison,” Shawwa said.

The report's authors analyzed public records of terror cases, reviewed efforts by American Muslim leaders to fight extremism, and interviewed more than 120 Muslims in Houston; Seattle; Buffalo, N.Y.; and around Raleigh and Durham. Each of the four areas had some cases of alleged radicalization.

The report, called "Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans," credited U.S. Muslim leaders with vigorously monitoring their communities for potential threats. The study's authors urged civil authorities to offer more support for projects, such as Muslim youth groups, that reinforce the message that extremism is contrary to Islam.


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