Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a Somalia-born U.S. citizen, planned to detonate a van loaded with explosives in Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., during a crowded Christmas tree lighting, sabotaging a joyous celebration of the Christmas season. Fortunately, he only knew how to make a fake bomb because his tutors were FBI agents working undercover.
Two months earlier, Faroque Ahmed, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen, was arrested in Washington for plotting to blow up the Metro trains. In May, Faisal Shazad, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, tried but failed to explode a car bomb in New York's Times Square. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The foiling of these plots before they caused harm are triumphs of intelligence, diligence and increased awareness of the enemy in our midst. But for all of our success, the terrorists have a sly and insidious strategy -- a strategy detailed in three English-language editions of a jihadist propaganda magazine called Inspire.
"The latest edition of Inspire is not very inspiring," says Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. "The call for lunch-counter attacks in Washington, D.C., is alarming, but consistent with the type of smaller-scale terrorist attacks that al-Qaida and its affiliates are seemingly focused on these days."
Inspire may not be inspiring, but it's slick and glossy and appeals to the young who pursue the thrill of dealing violent death to the despised infidels in the West.
Some of the tips seem aimed at the slow-witted: "If your opponent covers his right cheek, slap him on the left." Others are more sophisticated and more violent: An illustrated tutorial shows how a Ford F-150 pickup truck can become the "Ultimate Mowing Machine" and inflict "maximum carnage" with the addition of steel blades to the front grille and driven at high speed into a crowd of pedestrians. There are descriptions of how to wrap packages to foil metal detectors and sniffer dogs.
The magazine mixes the sensibility of violent electronic games and real-life seriousness to describe grisly ideas for creating death and chaos, invoking the instructions and blessings of Allah: "We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve."
The appeal is new and frightening. "The concern is that this magazine will reach kids who have never really been very interested in violent jihad before," a counter-terrorist official tells National Public Radio. "The magazine seems to make it fun and accessible." Arabic is no longer the necessary language. English translations of violent jihad videos are readily accessible.
Inspire is published by al-Malahim, the media arm of the Yemen-based al-Qaida, which is on the front line to spread the jihadist message in the West, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), which studies attempts at jihad in the United States.
The strategic and technical details in Inspire could be called "terrorism for dummies." When the detailed techniques are combined with psychological appeals to the lone-wolf loser who aspires to be a martyr, they have the potential to wreak destruction and panic across what the magazine calls the "the United Snakes of America."
In a letter, written in script, the reader is asked to attack the West in its own backyard, where a jihadist can get more bang for his buck, literally and figuratively: "The effect is much greater, it always embarrasses the enemy, and these types of individual attacks are nearly impossible for them to contain."
Online sites in English are the newest tools for homegrown terrorists. The teenager who wanted to explode the bomb in Portland wrote articles for "Jihad Recollections," an online magazine that promotes violent jihad.
Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, who will regain the chairmanship of the House Committee on Homeland Security in January, will hold hearings on "al-Qaida's tactic of recruiting and radicalizing individuals residing in America."
That's improvement, but there's a lot more work to do to find the terrorists living among us.