The Vanishing Threat of American Muslim Terrorism

And by vanishing, I don’t mean that the threat is disappearing, I mean that the threat is vanishingly small and always has been. A new study finds that there is very, very little threat of terrorist attacks from American Muslims despite the efforts of overseas Muslim reactionaries to create it. My former colleague Spencer Ackerman has the details:

Try as al-Qaida might to encourage them, American Muslims still aren’t committing acts of terrorism. Only 14 people out of a population of millions were indicted for their involvement in violent terrorist plots in 2012, a decline from 2011′s 21. The plots themselves hit the single digits last year.

So much for a widespread stereotype. According to data tracked by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in North Carolina and released Friday (.PDF), there were nine terrorist plots involving American Muslims in 2012. Only one of them, the attempted bombing of a Social Security office in Arizona, actually led to any violence. There were no casualties in that or any other incident. And the Triangle study tracks indictments, not convictions.

Terrorist incidents from American Muslims is on the decline for the third straight year. After an uptick in 2009, there were 18 plots in 2011 involving 21 U.S. Muslims. And it’s not just violent plots: Fewer Muslim-Americans are getting indicted for money laundering, material support for terrorism, and lying to investigators. There were 27 people indicted on those terror-support charges in 2010, eight in 2011 and six in 2012…

Since 9/11, Kurzman and his team tallies, 33 Americans have died as a result of terrorism launched by their Muslim neighbors. During that period, 180,000 Americans were murdered for reasons unrelated to terrorism. In just the past year, the mass shootings that have captivated America’s attention killed 66 Americans, “twice as many fatalities as from Muslim-American terrorism in all 11 years since 9/11,” notes Kurzman’s team.

You have a far higher chance of being killed by your neighbor than by a Muslim American. Out of three million or so Muslims in the U.S. and a tiny percentage of them support violence, and an even tinier percentage actually try to commit it. So small that it is virtually non-existent. But fear sells, especially fear of a conveniently dark-skinned enemy.

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  • slc1

    Which, of course, will have zero effect on Pam Geller and here acolytes.

  • I’m more worried about angry white American males, to be honest.

  • And I naturally wonder how this stacks up against terrorism from the far right wingnuts.

  • subbie

    I certainly agree that the threat of American Muslim terrorism is vanishingly small, but I question the relevance of the statistics presented. Is it not possible, or likely even, that the reason indictments are falling is because the government is simply using non-judicial resources, Gitmo for example, to deal with the perceived threats?

  • Dunc

    I’d be very curious as to how many of those plots involved FBI sting operations… I seem to recall that they’re the only organisation that’s had any real luck in recruiting American Muslims into terrorist activity.

  • dmcclean


    “No effect on Pam Geller”? Dream on. Obviously this is Obama’s fault for being in league with Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood and forcing law enforcement not to investigate them, as any fool can see.

  • But it’s hard to keep the populace whipped up into a constant state of fear about people who live half a world away, so Geller and her ilk will claim that this study is part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to lull is into a false sense of complacency.

  • raven

    And I naturally wonder how this stacks up against terrorism from the far right wingnuts

    You mean like Wade Page, the white supremacist who shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin?

    According to info presented on this blog a year or so ago, 2/3’s of all US terrorism attacks involved right wing and/or xian terrorists.

  • raven

    There have been terrorism attacks near my house.

    1. The xian terrorists fire bombed the local mosque.

    2. A guy got into a shootout with the cops while on his way to shoot up a local environmental group.

    Like a lot of scientists, I’ve gotten who knows how many death threats over the last decade +. They were all from fundie death cult xians. Never got a single one from…Moslems.

  • @raven: Yeah, I’ve heard the 2/3rds before, which is why I’m wondering if the proportion is going up as American Islamic terrorism goes down. It certainly matches my impression from reading Dispatches and other blogs, since I’m aware of those instances and of the concept of stochastic terrorism.

    Would be nice to see a graph comparing the two over time or something that puts it into a neat package to shove in the face of wingnuts and fundie Christians.

  • cottonnero

    Don’t worry about the wingnuts. If every Muslim (and everybody they mistake for Muslims, like Sikhs, Hindus, Baha’i, and an agnostic Trinidadian IT guy I know) were deported tomorrow, they’d go back to hating black people or Mexicans without missing a beat.

  • Trebuchet

    I’d have to think that many, if not most Muslim immigrants have come here to escape radical Islam, not to spread it. What little radicalism there is may be more prevalent in younger generations. That at least seems to be the case in the UK.

  • Of course, terror attacks by Muslim-Americans are down. They’re trying to lull us into a false sense of security!

  • 66? This is an outrage! I demand a Senate investigation! How are the Muslins recruiting so many white suburban Protestant American males?

  • fastlane

    You have a far higher chance of being killed by your neighbor than by a Muslim American.

    What if my neighbor is a Muslim American? Huh? Betcha didn’t think of that Mr. Smartypants.

  • Then you’re probably safer than the folks with no Muslim neighbours.