NEW YORK --They preferred bookstores or hookah bars to mosques. They stopped listening to pop music and instead surfed Web sites promoting radical Islam. They threw away their baseball caps and grew beards.
New York Police Department intelligence analysts have concluded those were some of the telltale signs of homegrown terrorists in the making -- a mounting threat as grave as that from established terror groups like al-Qaida.
An NYPD report released Wednesday warns of a "radicalization" process in which young men -- otherwise unremarkable legal immigrants from the Middle East -- grow disillusioned with life in America and adopt a philosophy that puts them on the path to jihad.
"Hopefully, the better we're informed about this process, the more likely we'll be to detect and disrupt it," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said while presenting the findings at a briefing of private security executives at police headquarters.
The findings drew swift criticism from an Arab anti-discrimination group, which accused the NYPD of stereotyping and of contradicting recent federal warnings that the chief terror threat remains foreign.
The FBI declined comment. The Homeland Security Department had no immediate response.
Police officials said the study is based on an analysis of a series of domestic plots thwarted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including those in Lackawanna; Portland, Ore.; and Virginia. It was prepared by senior analysts with the NYPD Intelligence Division who traveled to Hamburg, Madrid and other overseas spots to confer with authorities about similar cases.
The report found homegrown terrorists often were indoctrinated in local "radicalization incubators" that are "rife with extremist rhetoric."
Instead of mosques, those places were more likely to be "cafes, cab driver hangouts, flop houses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah bars, butcher shops and bookstores," the report says.
The Internet also provides "the wandering mind of the conflicted young Muslim or potential convert with direct access to unfiltered radical and extremist ideology."
The report warns that potential terrorists are difficult for law enforcement to detect because they blend in well with society. It also argues that more intelligence gathering is needed to thwart potential terror plots at their earliest stages.
Potential homegrown terrorists "are not on the law enforcement radar," the study says. "Most have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble."
They "look, act, talk and walk like everyone around them," the study adds. "In the early stages of their radicalization, these individuals rarely travel, are not participating in any kind of militant activity, yet they are slowly building the mind-set, intention and commitment to conduct jihad."
Kareem Shora, legal adviser for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the findings faulty and inflammatory.
"The report is at odds with federal law enforcement findings, including those of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, and uses unfortunate stereotyping of entire communities," Shora said in a statement. "The use of such language by the NYPD is un-American and goes against everything for which we stand."
The National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Osama bin Laden's network had regrouped and remains the most serious threat to the United States.
Kelly insisted the NYPD report made no effort to provide a "cookie-cutter" profile for terrorists. He also argued that the NYPD report "doesn't contradict the National Intelligence Estimate -- it augments it."
Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.
Path To Jihad Starts In NYC: Cops
by Colin Gustafson, Assistant Editor
Future terror plots to attack the United States are just as likely to be hatched by homegrown extremists as they are by covert al-Qaida cells in Afghanistan. This, according to a new NYPD study that details the indoctrination of two young Queens men, among others, showing how "unremarkable" citizens can be transformed into violent terrorists on domestic soil.
The report, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," charts the path of dozens of accused terrorists who turned to religious fanaticism after growing disillusioned with their lives in America, Canada and parts of Western Europe. "We think it's very real," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly when asked last week of the threat posed by homegrown terrorists. "It's just as much of a threat as the one that comes from overseas." The NYPD's Intelligence Division released the study to help law enforcement officials identify warnings of an attack in local Muslim populations and pre-empt any locally hatched plots in the future. The report, which focuses only on Muslims, is based on the stories of more than 100 suspects from six countries in nearly a dozen terrorism plots, including the Sept. 11 attacks. The assessment also traces the "jihadization" of the Brooklyn men who were implicated in a foiled 2004 plot to bomb a midtown Manhattan subway station. And it recounts, in often chilling detail, how two Queens men joined a local extremist group before moving overseas to support al-Qaida's fight against American troops in Afghanistan. Both were raised in the borough by immigrant families and, like most terrorism suspects cited in the report, were legal residents who had no criminal record. By analyzing their progression from seemingly ordinary citizens to radical ideologues, police officials say they hope to detect warning signs of local radicalism in the future. "It's meant to help law enforcement gather and synthesize information in a more organized fashion," Kelly explained. The 90-page study, illustrated with flow charts and timelines, identifies homegrown "radicalization" as a four-part process: The first step is "pre-radicalization," which describes a person's life circumstances their religion, social status, education and neighborhood, among other factors prior to indoctrination. Prompted by a personal crisis, the individual begins exploring radical brands of Islam in the second phase, dubbed "self-identification," the report says. In this phase, the budding radical begins moving away from his old lifestyle, often cutting ties with family and friends, growing a beard and swearing off alcohol and tobacco. Continuing down this path, the person begins spending more time with other extremists not so much in local mosques, the report notes, but more frequently in the back rooms of bookstores, prayer halls and community centers. In the "indoctrination" phase, the person "progressively intensifies his beliefs, wholly adopts jihadi ... ideology and concludes, without question, that the conditions and circumstances exist where action is required to support ... jihad." Finally, at the bottom of this psychological plunge is the "jihadization" phase, in which the full-blown extremist deems himself a holy warrior and commits himself to planning an attack in the service of jihad. Police believe this trend is becoming increasingly common in New York City, where Muslim communities "have been permeated by extremists who sow the seeds of radicalization." But the report also acknowledges that "jihadization" is difficult to detect, since it occurs on a personal level, out of the public eye. Intelligence analysts added that "there is no useful profile to assist law enforcement ... to predict who will follow this trajectory" but, in nearly the same breath, asserted that potential jihadists usually fit a specific profile: Muslims men in their 20s and 30s, usually from middle-class families. Such descriptions stoked outrage among Arab-American leaders, who condemned the report last week as a potential justification for ethnic stereotyping that would end up casting unwarranted suspicion over the borough's swelling Muslim communities. Kareem Shora, executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, asserted that the report's exclusive focus on Muslim men would only serve to further alienate them from mainstream society in the process, stoking radicalism rather than quelling it. "The use of such language by the NYPD is un-American," she said. "By using that type of language, you are actually aiding the extremists in their recruiting efforts." She also worries the report will open the door to an increase in police surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods and undermine the progress law enforcement has made through community policing efforts. "This approach runs counter to building ... partnerships with these communities."
Report Details Path To Jihad' Taken By Two Queens Men by Colin Gustafson Assistant Editor
Queens was serving as an incubator for homegrown extremism long before a former airport worker allegedly plotted to attack Kennedy International Airport earlier this year, a new NYPD report reveals. More than six years before Russell Defreitas hatched an alleged plan to detonate the airport's fuel line, two disaffected Queens men were turning to a radical brand of Islam that would lead them on a path to jihad overseas, police analysts say. The "al-Mujahiroun Two" comprised of Mohammed Junaid Babar and Syed Hashmi fell under the influence of radical clerics in Jackson Heights in the late 1990's before moving to London to aid al-Qaida operatives fighting U.S. troops in Pakistan. The "Two" were also implicated in a foiled plot to blow up a London subway station. Now, police intelligence analysts are citing their purported descent into radicalism in order to show how ordinary citizens can transform into terrorists on American soil. Babar and Hashmi were among dozens of extremists studied in a new NYPD report that tries to explain how naturalized citizens and legal immigrants in this country may become indoctrinated and plot terrorism. "As these young Muslims explore their Islamic identity," the report says, "their activist spirit causes them to gravitate to the more militant message ... that calls for aggressive action rather than steadfastness." In the case of the al-Mujahiroun Two, the so-called "jihadization" process took place over several years, starting near the end of their college careers, the report says. Hashmi, a graduate of Robert Wagner High School in Long Island City, was working toward a bachelor's degree in political science when he joined a Jamaica-based youth group in hopes of exploring his faith. However, dissatisfied with the group's overly "passive" message, Hashmi quit and later joined the Woodside branch of a far more extreme international organization al-Mujahiroun, or "the Emigrants," a London-based group, now ostensibly disbanded, that praised the Sept. 11 attacks. Behind the closed doors of a Jackson Heights mosque, Hashmi's "transformation took root," authorities said, and by his college graduation in 2003, he had gained notoriety for his aggressive recruiting tactics. His efforts helped lure Mohammed Junaid Babar, a Jamaica native studying pharmacology at St. John's University in Jamaica Estates, analysts said. He quickly became enthralled by the hardened rhetoric of al-Mujahiroun's online literature and eventually dropped out of school, working odd jobs, like valet parking. According to a published report, Babar's grandparents had emigrated from Pakistan and instilled in him a strong Muslim faith since childhood. That faith grew extreme when Babar began joining Hashmi at the group's regular meetings around 2000. After the two budding extremists met, they "became increasingly politicized and began seeking unity for the Muslim world," the report says. "al-Mujahiroun served as sanctuaries from their withdrawal from mainstream society." While most New Yorkers reeled in horror at the Sept. 11 attacks, Babar later told authorities that seeing the two planes slam into the Twin Towers catalyzed his commitment to jihad. This epiphany came, despite the fact that his mother had actually been inside the World Trade Center when it was attacked, but fled from the ninth floor before it collapsed. About a week later, Babar had boarded a plane to the United Kingdom with plans to connect with overseas al-Qaida operatives, the report says. For the next two years, the Jamaica man sent military gear to jihadists in South Waziristan, a tribal region near the Afghan-Pakistani border. He later began traveling to Pakistan to smuggle night vision goggles, sleeping bags, waterproof socks and ponchos. When Hashmi moved to London on an expired student visa in 2003, he reportedly introduced Babar to a slew of British terrorists and allowed him to store supplies and money inside his new flat before shipping them to Pakistan. However, just as Babar was the first of the "Two" to leave Queens, he was also the first to be get caught upon his return home. Authorities nabbed him in April 2004 in Long Island City, where he was reportedly seeking lessons as a taxi cab driver. Investigators had been trailing Babar ever since he appeared on a Canadian television show in 2001 espousing his hatred for the U.S. "I'm willing to kill the Americans," he told reporters. "And if the Americans use Pakistani soil as its bases, we will kill them in Pakistan, too." After pleading guilty to five counts of providing and conspiring to provide supplies to a terrorist group, Babar became an informant and gave up the names of dozens of associates who would later be implicated in the London subway plot. One was his old friend. In June 2006, Hashmi was nabbed as he tried to board a plane to Pakistan at London's Heathrow Airport, where he was found carrying large sums of money. He, too, was charged with multiple federal counts of aiding al-Qaida but pleaded not guilty' in May. Hashmi was held in lieu of bail and is now awaiting his next appearance in Federal District Court in Manhattan.