The New Hallmarks Of Domestic Islamic Terrorism

Islamic extremists already in the U.S. are focusing more on domestic attacks than taking their terror abroad

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Mar 23, 2017 at 6:22 PM ET

The number of domestic Islamic terrorist plots and attacks in the U.S. fell by nearly 50 percent between 2015 and 2016, but a higher percentage of extremists actively plotted their own attacks rather than offering material support for other attackers, according to a report released Thursday.

The report, published by the Anti-Defamation League — a civil rights advocacy group that monitors extremism — shows a shift in the threat posed by domestic Islamic terrorists who now seem more inclined to conduct an attack in the U.S. than traveling abroad and supporting the terrorist organizations to which they swear allegiance.

In 2016, 45 U.S. residents were found to have had ties to terrorist plots or attacks in both the U.S. and abroad. That’s down from 81 in 2015. Even though there’s been a decrease in the number of U.S. residents tied to attacks, the report found that nearly half (21) of those linked to terrorist plots were involved in planning attacks in the U.S. In previous years, 2009 to 2015, the percentage of those plotting domestic attacks was between 25 and 30 percent.

“Islamic extremism still presents a potent threat to our domestic national security,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO. “The Islamic State and other terrorist groups overseas continue to churn out online propaganda that is luring the disaffected into their ranks. This propaganda continues to give a green light to would-be terrorists in the U.S. to carry out the attacks here rather than waiting to travel abroad and join the fight in countries such as Syria and Iraq.”

The ADL credits some of the shift towards domestic attacks to “increased security at border crossings and other difficulties in getting to terror organizations’ safe havens,” as well as “a shift in terror propaganda directives: organizations like ISIS, attempting to compensate for shrinking territory and tighter security, are encouraging supporters to stay in their home countries and execute attacks there.”

Islamic terrorists are also using more unconventional weapons like knives, vehicles, and pressure-cooker bombs similar to those used in the 2013 attack on the Boston Marathon, and are focusing less on symbolic targets like government buildings and more on public spaces like malls and nightclubs — like the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where 49 people were killed in a mass shooting by an Islamic extremist in June — the report found.

“It is critical to make clear the overwhelmingly vast majority of American Muslims reject extreme interpretations of Islam as abhorrent and counter to their religious beliefs and everything they stand for,” Greenblatt added. “Any attempt to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few should be rejected categorically. America and its government can be vigilant about addressing the individuals most susceptible to terrorist indoctrination while respecting the rights of Muslims in our communities.”