August 16, 2007 New York City Police Report Explores Homegrown Terrorism By AL BAKER
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 terrorist patterns.
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 them. 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 radicalization process.”
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 statement. 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.”
Senator Joseph 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 authorities.
“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 religious activity.”