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RAND: Stray Dogs and Virtual Armies

Author: Brian Michael Jenkins
August 31, 2011


Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation, revisits the topic of homegrown terrorism, expands on earlier writings about domestic counterterrorist strategy, and updates the numbers and case descriptions to include all of 2010.

The evidence suggests that al Qaeda, although weakened, remains as intent as ever on its worldwide terrorist campaign. But it faces a more difficult and dangerous operating environment than it did 10 years ago and has necessarily changed its approach. Instead of conducting
large-scale attacks, which are difficult to plan and implement in the glare of improved U.S. intelligence, al Qaeda seeks American homegrown recruits to implement a campaign of individual jihad and do-it-yourself terrorism.

How successful has al Qaeda been with this new approach in the years since 9/11? So far, the turnout is tiny. A total of 176 Americans have been indicted, arrested, or otherwise identified as jihadist terrorists or supporters since 9/11. The 176 individuals were involved in 82 cases,
20 of which were announced in 2010, as compared with 15 in 2009.

This analysis counts cases, plots, and individuals. A case represents the culmination of an investigation. It may involve a single individual or a group of persons charged with materially assisting or joining a jihadist terrorist group abroad or with plotting terrorist attacks in
the United States. Plots comprise the subset of cases in which individuals or small groups were accused of planning terrorist attacks against targets in the United States. Obviously, these cause the greatest concern.

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