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U.S. Report Sees Increase In Number Of Americans Joining Terrorist Groups

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces charges of terrorism violations against 14 people for providing resources to the foreign organization Al-Shabab.
WASHINGTON -- The year 2009 saw an increase in the number of U.S. citizens who acted as operatives for foreign terrorist organizations, according to the latest edition of the U.S. government's annual "Country Reports on Terrorism." The report documents global terrorist activities and attacks from the previous year.

"We've learned something else important in the last year," said Daniel Benjamin, coordinator of the State Department's Office for Counterterrorism, as he announced the findings in Washington. "The assumption that Americans have some special immunity to Al-Qaeda's ideology was dispelled. While our overall domestic radicalization problem remains significantly less than in many Western nations, several high-profile cases demonstrate that we must remain vigilant."

Among those high-profile cases was the suicide bomb attack on New York City's subway system allegedly plotted at the hands of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-born permanent resident of the United States who was trained by Al-Qaeda in Pakistan's Waziristan region.

Zazi was arraigned in a Brooklyn courtroom in July, where charges were also filed against Adnan El Shukrijumah, a Saudi-born U.S. citizen whom U.S. authorities believe is a leader of Al-Qaeda's operations program. A U.S. citizen of Bosnian origin was also charged with involvement in the planned attack.

Other cases highlighted by the report include that of Virginia-born Nidal Malik Hasan, charged in connection with the deadly November shooting spree at a Texas military base, as well as that of David Headley, a U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty to conspiring with terrorist group Lashkar-e Taiba on the Mumbai attacks in late 2008.

'Deadly Pipeline'

To coincide with the report's release, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced charges against 14 people, including a number of U.S. citizens, for aiding Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based terrorist group that has been linked to Al-Qaeda.

"These indictments and arrests in Minnesota, Alabama, and California shed further light on a deadly pipeline that routed funding and fighters to Al-Shabab from across the United States," Holder said.

Najibullah Zazi (file photo)
Along with an increase in the number U.S.-born terrorist operatives, the report also points to a "rise in prominence" of U.S.-born proponents of extremism.

Adam Gadahn, who hails from California, has become a spokesman for Al-Qaeda and helps the group target its propaganda for Western audiences. Omar Hammami, who grew up in Alabama, has become a "chief propagandist" for Al-Shabab. The radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who, according to the State Department's Benjamin, "catalyzed a pool of potential recruits that others failed to reach," met with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day last year.

But the report also notes that 2009 also saw the lowest number of terrorist attacks worldwide in five years. Terrorists carried out some 11,000 attacks last year, down from the recent high of almost 14,500 in 2006.

Deaths caused by terrorist attacks also hit a four-year low, with just under 15,000 victims.

'Different Agendas, Different Locations'

And yet Russ Travers, the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the declining numbers should not necessarily be interpreted as a sign of progress in the fight against terrorism.

"We've emphasized for several years now that global totals are not a particularly useful way of measuring success against terrorists," Travers said. "Why? We've got roughly 250 groups cataloged last year in 83 different countries. Different agendas, different locations -- adding them up just doesn't mean very much."

Last year, for example, there were four times as many terrorist attacks in Afghanistan than there were in 2005.

That said, Al-Qaeda -- which is linked to a large percentage of last year's terrorist attacks -- did suffer a number of "significant setbacks," according to the report.

Pakistani military operations aimed at eliminating strongholds, plus the deaths of some of the group's key figures, and increased difficulty in raising money, training recruits, and planning attacks were all cited as having taken a toll on the network.

State Sponsors

The report also says that the number of imams, clerics, and former militants speaking out against the group increased in 2009. But it acknowledges that Al-Qaeda's core in Pakistan remained "the most formidable terrorist organization targeting the U.S. homeland" last year.

It adds that Al-Qaeda has proven to be "adaptable and resilient," partially offsetting losses by ramping up initiatives in different parts of the globe. The Arabian Peninsula and Africa's sparsely populated Sahel region, both home to Al-Qaeda affiliates, emerged last year as new fronts in the fight against terrorism.

The report also tracks the activities of countries deemed to be state sponsors of terrorism.

Iran remained the "most active" member on the list, which also includes Cuba, Sudan, and Syria. In 2009, Tehran continued to provide financial, material, and logistical support to terrorist organizations, including Hizballah, Hamas, and other militant groups in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The United States also accuses Iran of actively supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

with agency reports