Focus on Terrorism

In the decade since September 11, 2001, the United States has had many successes against terrorism, from thwarting the plot to detonate liquid bombs aboard airlines to the death of Usama Bin Ladin earlier this year. Yet, the threat has not disappeared. If anything, it has become more prevalent and continues to change quickly. While the United States successfully has disrupted al Qaeda and dismantled some of its operations, the group remains a powerful force, influencing its followers and motivating new ones. Other groups, such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, not only have demonstrated their intent to attack the United States and its allies but shown their ability to inspire others to develop and carry out their own attacks. In the last several years, these efforts have fueled a steady stream of plots against U.S. citizens and targets by those living in America—homegrown violent extremists—who increasingly are fueled by easy-access Internet propaganda.

Because of these rapid transformations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police Committee on Terrorism requested that this issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin focus on the evolving terrorism threat to both U.S. interests overseas and in its homeland. The committee first undertook this effort in the March 1999 issue of the magazine and again in December 2007 to focus on the post-9/11 threat. In the 4 years since the 2007 edition, the threat has changed significantly as America’s adversaries use innovative approaches to avoid detection and carry out terrorist operations. To address this evolving threat, the United States must be more aware, identify emerging threats early, and not only look at the current state of terrorism but also ask, What’s next?

A tattered American flag hangs from a building damaged by the 9/11 attack in New York City.

Change is the only constant in addressing terrorism. With that in mind, the articles in the September 2011 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin look at the varied forms of terrorism and America’s responses. While the threats are diverse, each with its own challenges, common threads link them, and they should be treated not simply as a case or group but as part of a larger threat picture.

“The Evolution of Terrorism Since 9/11” looks at the overarching threat, how it has changed, and how Americans must adapt to the changes, from the threats of al Qaeda to homegrown violent extremists. “Radicalization of Islamist Terrorists in the Western World” examines the radicalization process and how it inspires violent actions of groups or individuals, such as the lone-offender example laid out in “The Hosam Smadi Case,” which recounts a Joint Terrorism Task Force takedown of a Jordanian national who attempted to destroy a Texas skyscraper with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive.  The violent extremist threat is not limited to those with Islamist ideology. “Sovereign Citizens: A Growing Domestic Threat to Law Enforcement” focuses on a loosely knit group of individuals who have renounced their US citizenship and believe that federal, state, and local governments operate illegally. These individuals typically act alone, committing white collar crimes and creating false documents, but their behavior can escalate to violence. During a traffic stop of two sovereign citizen extremists in Arkansas last year, a passenger opened fire, killing two officers and injuring more law enforcement officials who attempted to stop the pair.

While these articles discuss the terrorism challenges faced by the United States, they also are meant to educate law enforcement on specific indicators that can alert them to potential violent behavior, why coordinated responses have prevented terrorist attacks, and how to protect U.S. citizens from these threats. America’s state and local law enforcement partners are essential to a secure defense, with eyes and ears throughout communities across the country. These examples show how—together—Americans can be successful, and they also demonstrate why the United States must remain vigilant and combine and adapt its intelligence and law enforcement capabilities to stop the ever-changing scope of terrorism.

The remnants of the World Trade Center in New York as construction crews begin clearing the debris.

“To address this evolving threat, the United States must be more aware, identify emerging threats early, and not only look at the current state of terrorism but also ask, What’s next?”

Sean M. Joyce
Executive Assistant Director
National Security Branch
Federal Bureau of Investigation