Then came the attacks in Madrid in March 2004, by a group of young immigrants who appeared to have no connection to any international networks at all, and the London bombings of 2005.
By now, there was a genuine recognition that there were serious problems within Europe and that, as it did elsewhere, the globalized free-floating ideology of “al-Qaeda-ism,” could appeal to individuals in the UK and elsewhere who had not been “recruited” or “brainwashed” and were not “sleeper cells.”
Some of the young men responsible for the attacks in the UK on July 7 and July 21, 2005, as well as the Operation Crevice and Operation Overt plots that came before and after them, had certainly traveled to Pakistan to receive training and “ideological focus” but they had sought out al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda had not sought out them.
Throughout most of this time, as violence exploded across the Middle East and Europe, there was relative calm in the US. This was attributed to many factors. Some saw it as a consequence of repressive legislation. Others argued that US Muslims were better integrated or came from better-educated, more successful communities than European Muslims. There was no European dream to match the American one, it was said. European-style multiculturalism did not work. The more excitable rightwing commentators, particularly during the French riots of 2005, predicted pockets of Islamic resistance within Europe that would require a division of marines to overcome.
Any US complacency soon appeared misplaced however. Rapidly, the same problems as seen in Europe emerged. Young men, first or second-generation immigrants, with a significant number of converts, became involved in violent Islamic extremism. Some were victim of FBI stings, almost certainly innocent. Others, such as Najibullah Zazi and Faisal Shahzad, two men of Pakistani origin who attempted to bomb New York’s subway system and Times Square respectively, were not. Some did indeed come from overseas — such as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student who flew from the Yemen to the Netherlands to the US to attempt to down a plane over Detroit with a bomb in his underpants. However, as elsewhere, most were locals, so-called “home growns.”
Indeed, that may always have been the case. According to a recent report by the Henry Jackson Society, the British think tank, between 1997 and 2011 more than half of “al-Qaeda-related offences” were committed by US citizens. The second most common nationality of perpetrators was Saudi Arabian (at 9 percent), with Pakistanis the third most common (at 6 percent). More than a third of the total number of individuals who committed such an offense had been born in the US, researchers found, and as a proportion of their overall involvement, US citizens committed more such offenses than foreign nationals in eight of the 15 years studied.
Only one of the Tsarnaev brothers was a US citizen: Dzhokhar, the younger. Tamerlan’s application for citizenship had been turned down, possibly because of a conviction following the violent assault of a girlfriend in 2009, possibly following his interview with the FBI.