New York City Police Report Explores Homegrown Terrorism
Posted: August 16, 2007
Understanding how seemingly ordinary people become radicalized and hatch
homegrown terror plots is essential for law enforcement officials in the United
States and abroad to stay one step ahead, a study released yesterday by the New
York Police Department concluded.
The study found that unassimilated Muslims in the United States are
vulnerable to extremism, but less so than their European counterparts.
The report’s findings were immediately hailed by proponents of law
enforcement and some politicians, while harshly criticized by civil libertarians
and advocates for Arab-Americans.
Police analysts studied 11 cases from the past six years to better understand
Their 90-page report highlighted how ordinary people in Western nations, with
unremarkable jobs and with little or no criminal histories, sometimes come to
adopt a terrorist ideology. It found a similar dynamic at work in recent terror
plots in Britain, Spain, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.
The report identified four steps in the process of radicalization:
pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination and jihadization.
Pre-radicalization, it said, “describes an individual’s world — his or her
pedigree, lifestyle, religion, social status, neighborhood and education — just
prior to the start of their journey down the path of radicalization.”
Self-identification, it said, marks the point where people begin to explore
militant Islam “while slowly migrating away from their former identity.”
Personal crises — such as losing a job or suffering from racism — can serve as a
catalyst for this “religious seeking,” the report said. While people can move
gradually through the early phases, over two or three years, they can pivot
quickly toward violence, the report said. The Internet, it said, can enable
Police Commissioner Raymond
W. Kelly said that before law enforcement officers could disrupt terrorists,
they had to understand the radicalization process.
“That’s what this report does,” Mr. Kelly said at a news conference after a
briefing. “It puts it in perspective and it actually gives a framework to the
Police officials said the report laid the groundwork for a public policy
debate over the growing concern about homegrown terrorism and would serve as a
tool for law enforcement to better understand threats in the United States
compared with threats by Al
Qaeda members overseas. Local law enforcement officers, corporate security
officials and some politicians praised the Police Department for addressing the
human factors at play in terrorist plots and for helping to synthesize trends in
human behavior. But critics called the report a faulty stereotyping of entire
communities of Arab people, a notion the Police Department rejected.
“The report is at odds with federal law enforcement findings, including those
of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, and uses unfortunate
stereotyping of entire communities,” Kareem W. Shora, the national executive
director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said in a
The “sweeping generalizations” of the report may serve to cast a pall of
suspicion over the entire American Muslim population, the Council on
American-Islamic Relations said yesterday.
“The report also claims that signs of radicalization include positive changes
in personal behavior such as giving up smoking, drinking and gambling,” said
Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the group’s board, adding that the report made similar
claims about those who wore Islamic clothing. “Is Islamic attire or giving up
bad habits, which is something recommended by leaders of all faiths, now to be
regarded as suspicious behavior?”
Police officials from New York visited Washington this week to brief
officials, including those from the White House and the F.B.I.,
said Lawrence Sanchez, an assistant police commissioner.
Mark J. Mershon, assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s New York
office, did not attend yesterday’s briefing. Stephen Kodak, an F.B.I. spokesman
in Washington, said, “We have no comment on the report.”
I. Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the homeland security committee,
said the report’s analyses, while similar to those of other studies, were a
“breakthrough” in antiterrorism efforts.
John J. Farrell, the director of security and life safety at SL Green, a
realty company with 31 properties in Manhattan, said he did not see the report
as a prescription for profiling people based on ethnicity, race or origin, but
as providing a baseline about how certain people act. “These are United States
residents, citizens, inside the United States,” he said. “They look like
everybody else: they’re the porter in the building, they’re the guy walking down
the street, they’re the guy at the hot dog stand.”
Christopher Dunn, of the New
York Civil Liberties Union, said the report paints all Muslims as potential
terrorists, and might turn law-abiding Muslims away from cooperating with the
“While aggressive counterterrorism policies are to be commended, this report
appears to treat all young Muslims as suspects and to lay the groundwork for
wholesale surveillance of Muslim communities without there being any sign of
unlawful conduct,” he said. “To target Muslims in this way would mark a
dangerous and unlawful erosion of the line separating the police from lawful
Article at: nytimes.com