Criminal Proceedings: A Timeline of U.S. Terror Cases
Posted: March 9, 2010
Updated: June 2012
Americans motivated by radical interpretations of Islam constitute a growing and increasingly dangerous domestic terror threat. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, approximately 200 Americans have been charged for their roles in various bomb plots and conspiracies in the U.S., as well as for providing material support to Islamic terrorist groups. Several other Americans have been charged overseas with similar terror-related offenses.
"We've seen an increased number of arrests here in the U.S. of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, or supporting terror groups abroad," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated in December 2009. "Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront."
American Muslim extremists – including American-born citizens, as well as naturalized U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents – have plotted more than 30 attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. And, since the fall of 2009, the number of attempted terror attacks in the U.S. has "surpassed the number of attempts during any other previous one-year period," according to the Department of Homeland Security. These plots have been foiled by law enforcement at various stages.
Other American Muslim extremists have launched terrorist attacks overseas or attempted to travel abroad to engage in terror activities. In October 2008, American citizen Shirwa Ahmed became the first known American suicide bomber when he drove an explosives-laden vehicle into a government building in Somalia. Ahmed and four others carried out a series of coordinated suicide attacks in Somalia, killing 24 people.
Although most of these extremists lack the means and materials to carry out violent attacks, their radical ideologies and willingness to conduct such attacks against the U.S. and other Western targets remain.
While most of the plots in the U.S. have been foiled by law enforcement before they were carried out, two deadly attacks against military personnel in 2009 demonstrate the particular danger posed by so-called "lone wolf" extremists who, though unaffiliated with terrorist groups, share their radical interpretations of Islam and ideological goals. "Lone wolves" typically prefer simple and direct methods of killing over elaborate plots that can be stopped in advance by law enforcement.
In November 2009, an American-born Army psychiatrist opened fire at the Fort Hood soldier readiness center where troops were undergoing medical preparations before their deployment to Iraq and as they returned from combat. The alleged gunman, Nidal Malik Hasan, killed 13 people and wounded 32 others in what Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano described as an act of "violent Islamic terrorism."
The shooting at Fort Hood followed a separate incident in June 2009 when American citizen Abdulahakim Mujahid Muhammad allegedly shot two uniformed American soldiers, killing one of them, at a military recruiting center in Arkansas. Following his arrest, Muhammad reportedly said that he sought revenge on the American military for its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The shootings at the military installations in Texas and Arkansas are the latest in a series of attacks and plots against American military targets planned by Americans motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam.
In addition to U.S.-based military targets, American Muslim extremists have targeted U.S. transit systems and landmarks. On May 1, 2010, for example, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, tried to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square.
In another case, federal authorities thwarted a terrorist plot to conduct coordinated suicide bombings on New York City subway lines during the days following the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Najibullah Zazi, a U.S. permanent resident from Afghanistan, and Zarein Ahmedzay, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan, have since pleaded guilty to planning to detonate homemade explosives during rush hour to maximize the number of casualties.
Many of these American Muslim extremists are fueled by hatred of Jews and Israel. In May 2009, for example, three American citizens conspired with a Haitian national to bomb two New York City synagogues and shoot down planes at a military base in Newburgh, New York. The men were arrested after planting what they believed to be bombs in cars outside of the synagogues. "These were people who were eager to bring death to Jews," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Snyder said following the arrests.
This threat proved lethal in July 2002 when Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a U.S. permanent resident from Egypt, opened fire killed two Israelis and injured four others at an El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport. Hadayet, who was fatally shot by an airline security officer, intended to "advance the Palestinian cause in the Israel-Palestine conflict through the killing of civilians and the targeting of an airline owned by the Government of Israel," according to the FBI.
Others have been motivated by a similar hatred of America and its support for Israel, as well as America's perceived war against Islam, foreign policy in the Middle East and military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In some cases, American Muslim extremists have been radicalized in their communities by a charismatic leader or recruiter, while in other instances, Muslim ideologues – including those born in America – have inspired followers by propagating their extreme ideologies and messages of violence through sermons, videos and other propaganda material disseminated online via blogs, video sharing sites, social networking sites and forums. The increased ability of communicating online has also given American Muslim extremists access to the ideologies of extreme intolerance propagated by terrorist movements overseas.
The following is a timeline of criminal proceedings related to the terror activities of American Muslim extremists and other Americans involved in activities with terrorist organizations whose ideologies are rooted in radical interpretations of Islam. In addition to planning terrorist plots, Americans have also been convicted of raising funds and providing material goods to foreign terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.
The equally disturbing terror-related activities of Americans who subscribe to anti-government, white supremacist and other extremist ideologies are not reflected in the timeline. Similarly, the list does not include the activities and plots against targets in the U.S. conceived by non-Americans motivated by radical interpretations of Islam. In May 2010, for example, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a Jordanian citizen living in the U.S. illegally, pleaded guilty to attempting to detonate explosives at a Dallas skyscraper the previous September in order to "bring down the building".