New reports are released every single day in Washington, but one that could prove to be of life or death importance was unveiled this week by The Henry Jackson Society, a bipartisan think tank headquartered in London. Al-Qaeda in the United States: A Complete Analysis of Terrorism Offenses holds up a mirror to America and provides us with a clear but terrifying image.
The report itself is more than 700 pages, and is a painstaking and meticulous review of all 171 al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda inspired terrorists who were either killed during their attacks or convicted in court here in the United States. Authored by Research Fellow Robin Simcox, the value of the data as a means of protecting Americans is underscored by the fact that the foreword was penned by General Michael Hayden, who previously led both the CIA and the NSA.
The excellent report challenges the post September11 conventional wisdom of who we thought al-Qaeda terrorists were—and are. It reveals that the bulk of the terrorists here are not highly trained foreign nationals infiltrating our borders to attack us, but our neighbors next door.
More than half of the terrorists were American citizens. A shocking 82% of the terrorists killed or convicted were U.S. residents. Ninety-five percent were men and they lived in states from coast to coast and all across the heartland. The highest numbers came from New York, Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota and California.
Another remarkable data point is that 52% of the attackers were college educated and nearly 60% were either pursing their education or employed at the time of their arrest. These facts punch gaping holes in the false and self-defeating assertion that those who hate America are driven to do so because they are ignorant or downtrodden. As Robin Simcox explained when I interviewed him recently, these people were not failed by our society; they were a part of it.
An inordinate number of the al-Qaeda terrorists were not born into radical Islam, but decided to embrace it later in life with the fervor of converts. Religious converts have made up 24% of all the terrorists and 95% of those converts were American citizens such as John Walker Lindh who pleaded guilty to assisting the Taliban.
One of the most striking things about this thorough study is how rigorously it steers clear of making policy recommendations. It provides the facts, and it is now up to those charged with developing our counter-terrorism and homeland security strategies to decide how best to use this information.
After all, safeguarding our citizens is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. It’s not a left-wing or right-wing issue. It needs to be an American priority.