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Muslim-American terrorism in the decade since 9/11

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Between 2009 and mid-2011, more than 100 persons suspected of Islamic extremist activity were subjected to law enforcement action in the United States, according to a Rice University study. Approximately 60% were U.S. citizens. While the number of actions is significant, the level of credible threats from radicalized Muslim-Americans — as well as convictions — has not been as high as many observers had feared after the 9/11 attacks.

A 2012 report from the University of North Carolina, published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, “Muslim-American Terrorism in the Decade Since 9/11” (PDF), analyzed the circumstances surrounding the 20 cases of Muslim-Americans indicted for terrorism in 2011, as well as the eight cases in which suspects were indicted for supporting terrorism.

The report’s findings include:

  • The total of 20 indictments for terrorism in 2011 is down from 26 in 2010 and 47 in 2009 (the total since 9/11 is 193). The number of Muslim-Americans indicted for support of terrorism also fell, from 27 individuals in 2010 to just eight in 2011 (the total since 9/11 stands at 462).
  • The persons indicted did not fit any one demographic profile. Overall, 70% were U.S. citizens and 30% were 30 or older; 30% were Arab, 25% white, and 15% African-American; 40% percent were converts to Islam, compared with 35% of all cases since 9/11.
  • Of the 20 suspects indicted for terrorism, only one was charged with carrying out an attack (a shooting at a military base in Virginia that resulted in no injuries or fatalities). This number is down from the six individuals charged with attacks in 2010.
  • Among the 14 cases in 2011 where the initial tip could be identified, Muslim-Americans notified authorities about two of the individuals implicated. However, tips have predominantly come from this group: Muslim-Americans have given 52 of the 140 documented tips regarding individuals involved in violent terrorist plots since 9/11.
  • Since 9/11, 16 terrorism plots involved more than $1 million in financing. However, only five of these occurred in the last four years and none in 2011. In contrast, 13 of the 23 publicly acknowledged cases in the past four years — and all four cases in 2011 — involved less than $100,000.

The author concludes that the “limited scale of Muslim-American terrorism in 2011 runs counter to the fears that many Americans shared in the days and months after 9/11, that domestic Muslim-American terrorism would escalate.”

Tags: crime, Middle East, religion, terrorism

    Writer: | Last updated: March 14, 2012

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the University of North Carolina report “Muslim-American Terrorism in the Decade Since 9/11.

    1. Summarize the publication in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Compose two tweets -- character-constrained messages -- accurately conveying findings from the publication to a general audience.
    3. What are two facts/pieces of context that a reporter could use in a local story?
    4. What sorts of stories might be generated out of the angles covered in the publication?

    Read the issue-related Associated Press series on the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslim Americans.

    1. What key issues do the study and articles raise about the complexities of policing terrorism in the United States? What lessons should reporters keep in mind?

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.