Tuesday, June 02, 2009
By Joseph Abrams
June 1: Suspected gunman Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, 23, is escorted from Little Rock police headquarters after a recruiting center attack.
The suspect in the deadly shooting at a military recruiting center in Arkansas is the latest in a series of Muslim converts accused of planning or launching violent attacks in the U.S., part of what security experts call an alarming domestic trend.
The attack came less than two weeks after a foiled bomb plot on two synagogues in Riverdale, N.Y., allegedly led by four men who converted to Islam in prison or shortly after their incarceration.
Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, the 23-year-old accused of killing a U.S. soldier and injuring another in the attack Monday in Little Rock, was born in Tennessee as Carlos Leon Bledsoe. He reportedly converted to Islam as a teenager, and court records show he changed his name in March 2006.
Little Rock police said there was no indication Muhammad was part of a wider plot to attack the military, but terrorism experts say there are important connections between his and other homegrown terror plots in recent years, including their targets, motives and inspiration.
"The real common denominator is the ideological commitment (present) in every single case I've seen over the past few months and over the past few years," said Walid Phares, director of the Future of Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Phares said the vast majority of converts are nonviolent, but a few embrace the teachings of extremist religious mentors.
"In the lives of these diverse people there's always one moment where there's a click," he said — in which the budding convert is turned by a radical cleric or ideologue, or swayed by indoctrinating material they find online.
Prosecutors say Muhammad was targeting U.S. soldiers "because of what they had done to Muslims in the past" and was angry about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But some terror experts say that reasoning is a cover for their true grievances. The alleged ringleader of the plot in New York professed a similar motivation and hoped to take down a military plane at a local airstrip — but only after he tried to bomb two synagogues in a war against the Jews.
"I think there are a lot of personal reasons these people do this — as opposed to the ideological reasons or religious reasons that become the excuse," said Neil Livingstone, a national security and terrorism consultant.
Livingstone said some people on the margins of society are "easy marks" for radicals who energize them with twisted teachings about Islam.
"Most of these guys — I think what it comes down to — they're misfits, they believe they've suffered injustice. ... They basically are striking back at society," he told FOXNews.com.
That is especially the case in prisons, where many black inmates convert to Islam and which have been identified as a "radicalizing cauldron" by law enforcement officials.
The Riverdale plotters are the most recent example, but another group of ex-cons was preparing terrorist attacks on Jewish and government targets around Los Angeles in 2005 when it was disrupted by local law enforcement.
Muslim advocacy groups say such radicals practice a false faith and only make up a small minority only of American Muslims.
"It's a ridiculous form of Islam," said Kamal Nawash, president of the Free Muslim Coalition. Nawash said that some converts, particularly those who have been incarcerated, practice "the most extreme version of the religion" and enter with their own personal and political grievances.
Muhammad never had been incarcerated, and it remains unclear how he became radicalized, but a law enforcement official confirmed to FOX News that he already was on the FBI's radar even before the attack.
Muhammad was under "preliminary" investigation by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force after visiting Yemen and being arrested there for using a Somali passport — even though he's a U.S. citizen.
Muhammad reportedly "studied jihad with an Islamic scholar" during his visit there, according to JihadWatch.org. And he would not be the first American-born terror suspect believed to have radical ties outside the U.S.
Randall Todd Royer, an American-born convert to Islam, was convicted in 2004 for his role in leading the so-called "Virginia jihad network," a group of Islamic radicals training for attacks on the U.S. Royer and another conspirator had trained in Pakistan in 1999 and 2000 with the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is believed responsible for the 2008 attacks that killed nearly 200 people in Mumbai. Royer was one of four American converts to Islam arrested in connection with the Virginia plot.
James Ujaama, who was born James Ernest Thompson in Denver, tried to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon in the late 1990s, an idea he developed with his spiritual mentor, a radical imam based in London. Ujama converted to Islam and changed his name in the 1980s, according to the Associated Press.
Despite these highly visible cases, Livingstone said that the country has been mostly quiet since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I don't think we're seeing that much activity," said Livingstone, who attributed the high visibility of homegrown terror plots to the government's success at arresting or deporting foreign nationals suspected of plotting against the U.S.
"We've rolled up most of the foreign nationals because they came more readily to our attention," he told FOXNews.com.
American citizens, who may give off few signals of radical ties or violent intentions, are all the harder to track.