April 23rd, 2010
02:57 PM ET

Security Brief: 'Home-grown jihadists' a growing headache for FBI

The guilty plea of New York taxi driver Zarein Ahmedzay on several terrorism charges Friday brings what intelligence officials called the biggest terrorist plot since September 11 one step closer to resolution.

In February, Ahmedzay pleaded not guilty to making false statements, but in a Brooklyn court on Friday, he admitted conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against targets in the United States.

Ten years ago, Ahmedzay was a school friend of fellow Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi. They attended Flushing High School in New York.

Zazi has admitted the conspiracy and in a court appearance in February confessed that he and others planned a series of suicide bomb attacks on the New York subway in September.

The case has shed light on the growing number of “home-grown jihadist” plots. One of the most serious is Chicago, Illinois, resident David Headley, who admitted scouting targets in Mumbai, India, for the November 2008 attacks by Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar e Taiba and plotting to attack the offices of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.

Then there is the case of “Jihad Jane,” a Pennsylvania woman named Colleen LaRose charged in March with conspiracy to support terrorists and kill a person in a foreign country, after federal investigators intercepted her online communications. She has pleaded not guilty.

The Zazi/Ahmedzay case bears a striking resemblance to that of Bryant Neal Vinas, a young New Yorker who traveled to Pakistan in search of jihad, received training at an al Qaeda camp and took part in attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan. He was detained in Peshawar late in 2008 and repatriated to the United States. He then admitted that while in Pakistan, he and al Qaeda members discussed attacking the Long Island Railroad. Vinas is in a New York prison and faces a possible life sentence.

Zazi and Ahmedzay flew to Pakistan in August 2008. Zazi has admitted that they attended al Qaeda training camps, and he was taught how to make explosives. He returned to New York in January 2009, moving to Denver, Colorado, a short time later. But while working as a shuttle driver at the Denver airport, he was also experimenting with bomb-making ingredients.

What triggered federal officials’ interest in Zazi and his associates is not public knowledge. But it seems that Zazi was under surveillance for weeks, if not months, before a high-speed cross-country drive from Denver to New York on September 9, days after he spent time in a Denver-area motel room trying to make the high-explosive TATP.

The indictment against Ahmedzay essentially describes him as a co-conspirator who did “knowingly and intentionally provide material support and resources … to a foreign terrorist organization.”

Another accused co-conspirator, Bosnian-born Adis Medunjanin, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization - al Qaeda - and receiving military-type training from al Qaeda. He was under surveillance for several months and was arrested after a high-speed car accident in New York in January. His attorney, Robert Gottlieb, said his client had no plans to change his not guilty plea, and the case is expected to go to court. No date has been set for Medunjanin’s trial.

A fourth suspect in the case is in custody in Pakistan, but his name and any charges against him are unknown.

The recent rash of cases involving alleged or admitted “American jihadists” has caused anxiety among U.S. counterterrorism officials. The suspects’ U.S. citizenship or permanent residency makes travel easier, making them very attractive recruits for jihadist groups. And the very different backgrounds of those arrested or convicted in recent months means a profile of the typical homegrown radical is not easy to compile.

But counterterrorism officials have long seen this threat coming. In 2007, the New York Police Department issued a detailed report warning that "homegrown radicalization" was destined to become a major terrorist threat.

And last fall, Mitch Silber, who runs intelligence analysis for the NYPD, said that in the previous year, U.S. authorities had uncovered nine plots in which “home-grown radicalization” played a part. In several instances, people who had traveled abroad to carry out “jihad” had instead refocused their plans on the United States.

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Filed under: National security • Security Brief • Terrorism
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. nick

    Can't say that this is new. Didn't we see this comming? There are consequences to our actions and this sort of problem is never going to go away.

    April 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Freemason

    we must do as Europe is doing and ban full veils due to driving and safety reasons. A convicted rapist whose on the run can put on a full veil and deceive the authorities ... Do people NOT think of this?? In "mohammeds" time muslims were being persecuted by the tribes and they could of brought up this solution so their men can pass by as women without being killed as a safety blanket this has nothing to do with "respect of the women how dumb dogmatic women of Muslim faith believe". This will send them a good message also banning long beards like Egypt did wouldn't be bad. Muslim world right now is a big problem to the global security growth education and ethics.

    April 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ray Whitener

    Citizenship in the United States, has, in my opinion, always been a privilege, not a right. The prisons are already full, and the cost of putting one more passenger on a military flight to a country of our choosing is not that great. Send the home grown jihadists back to the country from whence they or their family came from. Take them outside the gates of the American Embassy or base in that country, and tell them to have a nice day. They will soon discover the truth is the bumper sticker, "Freedom is not free".

    April 23, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Yoshi

    Strange that someone who thinks of themself as a Freemason would have an issue with secrecy.

    April 23, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • silvershado

      The Freemasons' secrets involve rituals (old traditions). No plots to harm, revenge being Islam's specialty.

      June 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CH

    Well spoken. The muslim Community is a huge threat to the world. We need to ban the practice of Islam all together in The United States. Somtimes we have to bend our rights to protect our freedom. Europe has the right idea, However we need to take it a step further.

    April 23, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TruthSeeker

    @Freemason: People like you give the real Masons a bad name.

    April 23, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Simply Ed

    What foolishness you have posted, not a word of truth in any of it, which fits fine with the American mentality of accept anything you hear without checking facts. How quick we are to take away the rights of others (Ban beards?) but how protective we are of our freedoms.Smacks of arrogance, undeserved as we are a bankrupt shadow of our former sellves, and Darwinistic racism (Save the heathens from themselves). Lets talk facts. No woman on earth is in more danger, more exploited, raped more often, having more abortions, taking more anti-depressents and commiting suicide more than Western Christian American women. Fact, the U.S trained and supported both Sadam Hussein when he was fighting Iran and Osama Bin Laden when he was fighting the Soviets. Fact, we attacked Iraq,they did not attack us. Fact, we have declared war on a whole country, Afghanistan, for the actions of a few (Mostly non-Afghans). Fact, history tells us that we will never subdue Afghanistan and in fact have fallen into their trap as their stated goal is to bankrupt America,which they are well on there way to doing. Teachers and firemen being fired in the U.S, services cut, no money for training and unemployment benefits, but we have billions of dollars and thousands of U.S lives to waste on these silly wars, and the Chinese are laughing thei butts off.We Americans are stupid; We are the bully for Israel, who takes billions from us, controls our congress with lobbyist and campaigh donations, and still embarrases us internationally with their spying cases in the U.S, and outwardly rejecting our calls for peace with the persectued Palestenians (Fact, it was not the Muslims slaughtering Jews in WW II, it was the Christians). Fact, while Muslims revere Jesus and eagerly await his return, the Jews deny his very existence. The problem is not the billion Muslims as a whole, it is Western / Isreal foreign policy, it is our need for oil, it is frustrated and misguided Muslims who commit these unnacceptable acts out of desperation, and it is us the citizens who don't ask questions.

    April 24, 2010 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      your needle is skipping you keep saying fact, you are correct but your beating the word to death. fact we were attacked on 9/11 , point allies do become enemies sometimes its life, truth if these people continue to become a threat we may have to expel all known people from these areas of the world back their homelands and not let them in legally. if they are sited they need to be reported and shipped out or imprisoned. if they love their nations so much let them go there then.

      August 6, 2010 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  8. laceangel

    Where is the wisdom, and compassion, conferred to these Jihadists by their religion? Instead they plot to kill innocent people. When did vengeful thinking become more important than one's personal devotional rituals, or somehow confused? Vague promises of virtuous gifts and titles conferred on people who take lives of innocent others should be questioned, not blindly obeyed. It cannot be the way of God to take personal pleasure in killing innocent people in His name, for any kind of personal gain here or in Heaven.

    April 24, 2010 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  9. ann

    Get these people out of America if they can't or won't pledge allegiance to The American flag or what we believe in as a nation. OUT!!!

    May 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. davidriched

    There is nothing called a free lunch is this world. If anything needed to be resolved then initiated need a support to be sorted out. I like this particular article it gives me an additional input in the information a round the world. Thanks a lot and keep going with posting such information.
    Home Insurance

    June 19, 2010 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |