2009: The Year of Homegrown Terror

Are fears of an American-born and bred terror threat coming true?

ByDrew Sandholm
December 25, 2009, 6:56 PM

Jan. 1, 2010 — -- Before the Underwear Bomber, and the vows of Yemen-based terrorists to strike Americans, 2009 was notable for the number of terror threats that originated within the United States. From Fort Hood, Texas to the D.C. suburbs, Americans have been surprised to find their own neighbors plotting or committing violence.

"It's been a bad year for America," said Jarret Brachman, an expert on terrorism and the author of "Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice," because now the power of the Web has become apparent.

In many of these instances, Brachman explained, the suspected terrorists radicalized themselves via the Internet . Previously, said Brachman, al Qaeda and other militant Islamic propaganda might have only been available online in Arabic, but now English versions are easily accessible.

"al Qaeda has transformed from a terrorist organization that uses the media into a media organization that uses terrorism," said Brachman. "By doing that, they're not just a centralized group in Afghanistan, Pakistan. It becomes an ideology that anyone can buy into."

Among the instances of homegrown terror this year:

The Alexandria Five


Accused of Seeking to Join Pakistani Militants

In November, five young men from Washington, D.C. suburbs traveled to Pakistan to train for jihad, Pakistani police said.

Identified as Ramy Zamzam, Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmad Mini, and Aman Hassan Yemer, the men reportedly became radicalized on the Internet. 20-year-old Mini frequented YouTube, where he praised videos showing attacks on U.S. troops.

According to a Pakistani interrogation report, the men ended up in a house in Sargodha in Northeast Pakistan after traveling to the country on separate flights over the Thanksgiving weekend. They were allegedly on their way to al Qaeda strongholds in North Waziristan in hopes of targeting U.S. troops when they were arrested. Their families back home had alerted the FBI that they were missing.

The men are currently being held in Lahore, where a high court ordered they cannot be deported to the U.S. without its consent. On December 30, Pakistani police said they would seek terrorism charges against the men, which could mean life sentences if they are found guilty.

FBI agents have had access to them and are also looking into any potential U.S. charges.

David Headley


Accused of Assisting in the 2008 Mumbai Attack and Plotting Attacks in Denmark

Headley, a U.S. citizen born Daood Gilani in Washington, D.C., is accused of helping the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba plot the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, India, which killed more than 170 people.

Two months ago, authorities arrested the 49-year-old and charged him with scouting locations for the assault. According to court documents, Headley went to Mumbai five times between Sep. 2006 and July 2008. During each visit, he allegedly took pictures and shot video of places later hit in the attacks, as well as the spot where the attackers would land by boat.

Headley is also accused of conspiring to attack a Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten, which published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in Sep. 2005. Court documents assert Headley had twice traveled to Denmark to prepare for the assault. Authorities say he had also traveled to Pakistan and met with terrorist groups to talk about plans to attack the paper.

On Oct. 3, authorities arrested Headley as he was about to fly from Chicago to Pakistan and said they found videos and maps of the newspaper in his luggage. Headley reportedly had plans to fly from Copenhagen to the U.S. on Oct. 29.

In December, Headley pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Najibullah Zazi


Accused of Plotting to Attack New York on the 8th Anniversary of 9/11

If Zazi's alleged plan had been carried out, it would have been the worst attack on the U.S. since 9/11, said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The Afghan born and Queens raised 24-year-old is accused of plotting to bomb New York on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A former coffee vendor from New York, Zazi moved to Colorado and allegedly bought materials similar to those used in the 2005 London train bombings, which killed more than 50 people. Zazi went to beauty supply stores to purchase large quantities of acetone and hydrogen peroxide, prosecutors said.

In September, a federal grand jury indicted Zazi on charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Prosecutors say Zazi attended a bomb-making class at an Al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, and had bomb-making instructions on his laptop.

Zazi has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

Bryant Neal Vinas

New York

Allegedly Assisted al-Qaeda in Plot to Attack New York's Penn Station

In January 2009, Vinas pleaded guilty to firing rockets at U.S. troops in Afghanistan and helping Al Qaeda plot attacks on a Long Island Railroad train at Penn Station.

The 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran, raised on New York's Long Island, grew up Catholic but converted to Islam three or four years ago. Prosecutors say he was radicalized over the Internet. In Sep. 2007, he left his father's New York home and later travelled to Pakistan to meet with members of Al Qaeda. Vinas offered the terrorist group information about the railroad, went through their training camp, and assisted in a rocket attack against American troops.

Pakistani authorities captured Vinas in Peshawar in Nov. 2008 and turned him over to the U.S. government. Vinas remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals as he awaits sentencing. He could receive a life sentence.

Maj. Nidal Hasan


Charged in the Fort Hood Massacre

The Army major is charged with killing 13 people and attempting to kill 32 others in a Nov. 6 shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas.

Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist born and raised in Virginia, reportedly sought guidance about jihad from radical Muslim cleric and al Qaeda recruiter Anwar Awlaki.

In an interview published on Al Jazeera's Web site, Awlaki says that Hasan, who initiated an e-mail correspondence with him in late 2008, asked about killing American military personnel in his very first message. The two exchanged as many as 18 e-mails in the year prior to the shooting.

Hasan is being prosecuted in the military justice system and could be sentenced to death if convicted. His civilian attorney, John Galligan, has said Hasan will probably plead not guilty. Galligan has also said he is considering an insanity defense.

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