Exclusive: U.S. Studying Two Dozen 'Clusters' of Possible Homegrown Terrorists

U.S. law enforcement officials say they have identified more than two dozen "clusters" of young Muslim men in the northeast United States who are on a path that could lead to homegrown terror, ABC News has learned.

"Any one of those clusters may be capable of carrying out a terrorist action that will result in fatalities," Rand Corporation terrorism expert Brian Jenkins tells ABC News.

In a report to be made public today, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly concludes the 9/ll attacks were an "anomaly" and the most serious terror threat to the country comes from clusters of "unremarkable" individuals who are on a path that could lead to homegrown terror.

Watch Brian Ross' Report on "Good Morning America"

The report by the NYPD intelligence division, "Radicalization in the West and the Homegrown Threat," plots "the trajectory of radicalization" and tracks the path of a non-radicalized individual to an individual with the willingness to commit an act of terror, multiple sources say.

"The threat is real; this is not some bogey man we are creating here. There are individuals who are proselytizing, inciting angry young men to go down this path," said Jenkins, who reviewed and contributed to the NYPD report.

Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.

The report identifies mosques, bookstores, cafes, prisons and flop houses as what it calls "radicalization incubators" that provide "extremist fodder or fuel for radicalization."

The leader of an American Arab civil rights group labeled the NYPD report as "unfortunate stereotyping" and at odds with federal law enforcement findings that the threat from homegrown terrorists was minimal.

"It is completely un-American; it goes against everything we stand for," said Kareem Shora, executive director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "We do not want to alienate any segment of any community, and by using that language you are actually aiding the extremists in their recruiting efforts."

The NYPD report, ABC News sources said, concludes that while al Qaeda can provide inspiration and an "ideological reference point," instances of command and control by al Qaeda are the exception rather than the rule.

It states that most or many terrorist attacks and attempted attacks in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States have been thought up by and planned by local residents seeking to attack their own country of residence.

The report, in its conclusions, asserts that the most significant threat to the homeland is not al Qaeda but the spread of the ideology promulgated by violent extremist Muslims, such as those belonging to al Qaeda, into the United States where it helps to radicalize residents.

The report is seen by several individuals familiar with it as filling a large gap in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, which was released July 17 and contained little to no explicit discussion of homegrown terrorism.

"We assess that al-Qa'ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland," the NIE states in its "Key Judgments."

"We assess that the spread of radical -- especially Salafi -- Internet sites, increasingly aggressive anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions and the growing number of radical, self-generating cells in Western countries indicate that the radical and violent segment of the West's Muslim population is expanding, including in the United States," the NIE says in its most significant paragraph on the topic.

"We assess that this internal Muslim terrorist threat is not likely to be as severe as it is in Europe, however," is the paragraph's close.

The NYPD report cites at least 10 well-known recent cases where local authorities, the FBI and European police and intelligence agencies have thwarted plots developed either wholly or in a very large part by homegrown "actors," with little or no support from al Qaeda.

According to multiple sources familiar with the classified version of the NIE, the body of that document does little to expand on the analysis of the issue of homegrown terror. 

High-ranking local and regional law enforcement in several North American jurisdictions tell ABC News that while it is important to acknowledge the links to al Qaeda -- whether inspirational, through the Internet or through travel -- it is far more important, from a law enforcement perspective, to try to identify at what points an individual might be ready to embrace violence.

Using the NYPD matrix, those officials say there are at least two dozen "clusters," or "pockets," of individuals in the region who are at various places along the path of radicalization.

In an Intelligence Assessment published at the end of June, New Jersey officials at the state's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness noted, "Through its ongoing review of extremist Web logs, the Intelligence Bureau has identified numerous pockets of radical youth existing in New Jersey communities and especially on N.J. campuses."

The purpose of the structure proposed by the NYPD is to create a tool enabling authorities to measure whether these "pockets" are moving from sanctioned activities toward violence.

Other law enforcement efforts to arrive at a prescriptive approach to homegrown terrorism are underway, and law enforcement officials are conscious that while these activities seem essential, they touch on thorny political issues in many jurisdictions and have to be carefully orchestrated to avoid conflict with constitutional protections in the U.S. But, Jenkins says, those protections have an outer limit.

"Freedom of speech, freedom of religion does not provide a defense against planning and preparation for violence," he tells ABC News.

In West Yorkshire, England, a "community mapping model" is underway seeking to identify potential high-risk pockets in the region, which includes Leeds, home to several alleged conspirators of the four bombers in the July 7, 2005 attack on London's transportation system that killed 52 people.

In at least one major U.S. city, a similar pilot study is under consideration.

The New Jersey Intelligence Assessment identified prisons, the Internet, universities and religious/cultural institutions as the places where "radicalization in New Jersey appears to occur."

That report also spells out the key concern behind the intense law enforcement effort to make an effort to identify individuals who might be moving toward violence.

"There is evidence that radicalization is taking place in the U.S...Studies of this phenomenon in Europe have shown that these individuals are virtually indistinguishable from the population in which they live. Certain risk factors such as age and personality type may be identified, but they are not predicative," the New Jersey report says.

The dense, 90-page NYPD analysis is the nation's first full analysis of the potential for increased homegrown terror in the United States and the first to develop a matrix on which to plot the course of "unremarkable" people as they move toward the potential for violent action, multiple persons familiar with the report told ABC News.

Months in the drafting, the report makes use of a novel "cluster" model to determine where on the path from preradicalized and self-identification to indoctrination and jihad an individual and immediate peer group may be. As such, it is a valuable tool for assessing individuals that come to law enforcement's attention and in making cogent arguments in court cases, sources who reviewed the report's drafts told ABC News.

Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...