As details emerge from the plot to kill American soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, one thing is clear. The United States may have more of a homegrown terrorist problem than some people imagine.
The six defendants, whose plot was interrupted before they could do any damage, mostly grew up in the United States or had lived here for a long time. Three of the men were illegal aliens -- but it does not appear they snuck across the U.S.-Mexico border, which is where we focus most of our resources to stop illegal immigration. They came in as children, along with their parents, and over-stayed their visas -- just as one-third of all illegal aliens do.
There was plenty of warning along the way that the three illegal aliens among this group were a problem. The three brothers -- Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka -- were part of a much larger extended family, many of whom appear to be in the country illegally. The brothers were arrested multiple times for driving without licenses, speeding and, at least once, for possession of drug paraphernalia and marijuana. But, according to news accounts, their offenses weren't enough to trigger immigration checks.
That seems not only odd but outrageous. The Cherry Hill, N.J., police department was pretty nonchalant in explaining why a collective 19 traffic citations in less than a decade weren't enough to trigger greater scrutiny or punishment for the three: "You can't physically restrain a person from driving," a police department spokesman told the Washington Post.
Gee, I thought that's what jails were for -- restraining repeat violators from continuing to break the law. If the police had thrown the men in jail and checked their legal status, perhaps this whole plot could have been averted. I wonder whether the police would have been more diligent if the men had hailed from, say, Mexico or Guatemala, rather than Macedonia.
It is stories like this that feed anger over illegal immigration -- even though this trio is hardly representative of the 12 million illegal aliens who have come here to work over the last two decades, the overwhelming majority of whom pay taxes and don't run afoul of the law, not least because they fear being sent packing if they are caught.
The Duka brothers, however, apparently harbored no such fears. Even in the post 9/11 world when law enforcement is supposed to be more attuned to the dangers of radical Islamist groups in the U.S., this group of ne'er-do-wells managed to evade suspicion -- that is until an ordinary citizen tipped off the FBI about the contents of a jihadist tape one of the conspirators dropped off at a local electronics store to have transferred to a DVD.
Andrew McCarthy, a former special prosecutor in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and now director for the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, noted in National Review Online recently that we should expect more Fort Dix-style jihads. But McCarthy says that this homegrown and unaffiliated variety of terrorism is nothing new.
Most of the defendants McCarthy prosecuted in 1993 belonged to no international terrorist organizations; they simply shared a dangerous ideology. That ideology, radical Islam, appears to be what motivated the New Jersey Six as well.
As McCarthy points out, "If we want to understand why we are at risk from cells in places like Cherry Hill, which have no ties to foreign groups, and if we want to learn what authentic, moderate Muslim reformers are up against, we need to open our eyes to what motivates jihadists. It is powerful, enduring and frightening because it is a doctrine, not an organization."
I would add that if we wanted to crack down on the illegal aliens who are the greatest threat to us, we'd devote more resources to rounding up wannabe terrorists than busboys and gardeners.