United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terroristsby Peter Bergen
Since 9/11, more than three hundred Americans—born and raised in Minnesota, Alabama, New Jersey, and elsewhere—have been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges. Some have taken the fight abroad: an American was among those who planned/b>
A riveting, panoramic look at “homegrown” Islamist terrorism from 9/11 to the present
Since 9/11, more than three hundred Americans—born and raised in Minnesota, Alabama, New Jersey, and elsewhere—have been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges. Some have taken the fight abroad: an American was among those who planned the attacks in Mumbai, and more than eighty U.S. citizens have been charged with ISIS-related crimes. Others have acted on American soil, as with the attacks at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, and in San Bernardino. What motivates them, how are they trained, and what do we sacrifice in our efforts to track them?
Paced like a detective story, United States of Jihad tells the entwined stories of the key actors on the American front. Among the perpetrators are Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born radical cleric who became the first American citizen killed by a CIA drone and who mentored the Charlie Hebdo shooters; Samir Khan, whose Inspire webzine has rallied terrorists around the world, including the Tsarnaev brothers; and Omar Hammami, an Alabama native and hip hop fan who became a fixture in al Shabaab’s propaganda videos until fatally displeasing his superiors.
Drawing on his extensive network of intelligence contacts, from the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI to the NYPD, Peter Bergen also offers an inside look at the controversial tactics of the agencies tracking potential terrorists—from infiltrating mosques to massive surveillance; at the bias experienced by innocent observant Muslims at the hands of law enforcement; at the critics and defenders of U.S. policies on terrorism; and at how social media has revolutionized terrorism.
Lucid and rigorously researched, United States of Jihad is an essential new analysis of the Americans who have embraced militant Islam both here and abroad.
— Washington Post, Notable Non-Fiction Books in 2016
A New York Times Editors' Choice
“Mr. Bergen writes with authority and range... His profiles of jihadists... leave the reader with a harrowing appreciation of the banality of evil and an unnerving sense of missteps made by the authorities... Mr. Bergen’s detailed accounts of terror plots (both executed, foiled or failed) make for chilling reading.”
—MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NEW YORK TIMES
“Excellent... Bergen’s book is the best one-volume treatment available on the current state of jihad in America.”
—JANET NAPOLITANO, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“Peter Bergen is a skilled and sensitive reporter with unparalleled access to the law-enforcement and intelligence communities... He has written what in effect are two books about terrorism. Both are valuable. One is a riveting, thoroughly researched account of the evolving state of the threat as a growing number of American citizens join the ranks of foreign terrorist movements—and of how U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies are addressing the constantly shifting threat. The other is a skilled defense of... the Obama administration’s anti-terror effort: one that attempts to steer between the perceived extremes of panicky overreaction and a failure to acknowledge how politically and socially devastating terror attacks can be.”
—WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, WALL STREET JOURNAL
“Peter Bergen... one of America's most prominent terrorism experts, makes a compelling and often unsettling case that, in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, Islamist terrorism in the United States has metamorphosed... The transformation of domestic jihadism has not only dispersed the Islamist terrorist threat but in a perverse process of cultural intermingling has partly Americanized jihad itself. The 'soft power' appeal of American culture is often considered to be one of this country's most enduring assets, but the new admixture of jihadi terror and pop culture savoir faire potentially turns this idea on its head... Bergen takes a generally skeptical view of the growth of the post-9/11 national security state and of the fear-mongering about Islam that has increasingly transfixed the darker crannies of American politics. This skepticism, I think, is not only strategically and morally sound but also borne out by the facts.”
—LOS ANGELES TIMES
“There’s drama in the cases Bergen relates... He makes a highly reliable guide on the road to the present day.”
—KARL VICK, TIME MAGAZINE
“A crisply methodical detailing of the types of people and attacks involved in Islam-inspired terrorism here and abroad… Bergen knows his topic extremely well."
“Disturbing and topical… [United States of Jihad] is an engrossing and edifying book… It is to Bergen’s immense credit that, without downplaying the threat of Islamist terrorism—home-grown or directed at America by groups abroad—he refrains from overstating it and attempts to maintain perspective… The author deserves kudos for simultaneously recognizing the potential of secular Muslims—who are too often ignored—to change people’s attitudes.”
“Bergen pulls you in with snappy, conversational writing... exploding some of the easy assumptions about jihadists in the United States.”
“Bergen, who has interviewed convicted terrorists, their families and friends and people working across the counterterrorism profession, is the most sober guide to the subject one could hope for….But Bergen also has an eye for the human factor, which makes this book, for all its horror, humane. ‘Jihadization’ is usually a great blow to the families of the person involved, and Bergen presents poignant family portraits.”
—THE GLOBE AND MAIL
“Gripping… There is much to commend in Mr. Bergen’s important book. Readers will benefit from his astute observations, based on numerous case studies… [Mr. Bergen] offers a sobering assessment that should not be overlooked.”
“Bergen’s book provides sobering reading in a feverish U.S. political climate.”
—AL JAZEERA AMERICA
“Bergen has been at the forefront of reporting on terrorism for more than 20 years. In this innovative and illuminating work... Bergen explores nearly every aspect of terrorist activity, from ISIS’ use of social media to the FBI’s development of behavioral profiles that identify potential terror activists. Both balanced and galvanizing, Bergen’s meticulous portrait of violent extremism is required reading for anyone who truly wants to understand the nature of the evolving threats from within and without.”
—BOOKLIST (starred review)
“Bergen calmly and lucidly examines the diverse stories of the more than 300 people in the United States who have been charged with jihadist terrorist crimes since September 11, 2001. His nuanced insights, couched within a series of gripping narratives, offer readers a solid foundation to knowledgeably face the barrage of political opinions being flung about by many Americans this election year… Highly recommended for all readers seeking an informed view of current events.”
“There are a number of fine scholars of jihad, but no one matches Peter Bergen in clarity and wisdom, qualities abundantly on display in this valuable book.”
—LAWRENCE WRIGHT, author of The Looming Tower and Going Clear
“Nobody burrows deeper into the horrifying world of organized terror, uncovering harrowing stories of near-misses and fatal attacks, than Peter Bergen. And nobody analyzes this fraught subject with such calm, careful rigor. His portrait of the terrorists next door and the agents who hunt them is worthy of Homeland—except that it’s all too real.”
—FRANKLIN FOER, author of How Soccer Explains the World
“Peter Bergen has become one of America’s most important analysts of Islamist militancy and terrorism. Here he again provides a timely, sober study of the diverse and fragmentary character of homegrown violent jihadists. He places the scale of the threat into accurate perspective without minimizing its dangers. Every American should read this book.”
—STEVE COLL, author of Ghost Wars and Private Empire
“A fascinating and vitally important look at the rise of American jihadists. Brilliantly reported and researched, this is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand why hundreds of Americans have turned to radical Islam.”
“It is hard to imagine a timelier book than this one. Peter Bergen does what he does best—telling mesmerizing stories that weave together exhaustive research to illuminate a critically important subject. He shows us that the Americans among us who turn to jihad are not who we imagine, suggesting ways in which we can be simultaneously more humane and more secure.”
—ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, author of The Idea That Is America; president and CEO of New America
“With his latest book, Peter Bergen shows once again that he has become the premier chronicler of jihadism in the twenty-first century. Read it and come away with a new understanding of America and of terrorism.”
—THOMAS E. RICKS, author of The Generals and Fiasco
“In this incisive book Peter Bergen answers many questions about terrorism that preoccupy Americans today. Why does extremism appeal to some young Muslims in America? What is the nature and scope of the threat? Rich in detail and eminently readable, this unique book explains both the challenge of terrorism and the turmoil in the Muslim heartland that fuels it.”
—VALI NASR, author of The Dispensable Nation; Dean, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins
In the wake of the December 2015 attack in San Bernardino, CA, this book could not be timelier. Journalist and CNN national security analyst Bergen (Manhunt) here calmly and lucidly examines the diverse stories of the more than 300 people in the United States who have been charged with jihadist terrorist crimes since September 11, 2001. His nuanced insights, couched within a series of gripping narratives, offer readers a solid foundation to knowledgeably face the barrage of political opinions being flung about by many Americans this election year. While covering the violence at Fort Hood, TX, Little Rock, AR, and Boston in great depth, Bergen also looks at numerous foiled or failed attacks. In addition, he discusses several broader themes including lone-wolf attacks, the role of the Internet and social media, the U.S. Muslim community, and Americans traveling abroad to places such as Syria for jihadist training. Throughout the narrative, Bergen provides a balanced assessment of terrorist prevention tactics such as surveillance, informants, and drone strikes on American citizens abroad. VERDICT Highly recommended for all readers seeking an informed view of current events. [See Prepub Alert, 10/26/15.]—Brian Sullivan, Alfred Univ. Lib., NY
A frightening survey of Islamic terrorists bred on American soil. As a reporter, CNN national security analyst Bergen (Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden—from 9/11 to Abbottabad, 2012, etc.) won enormous respect for interviewing Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks. Now he describes a foggier threat to national security: terrorists born and raised in the U.S. He opens with Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an Illinois teenager who attempted to fly to Turkey in order to join the Islamic State group. Like most of the author's subjects, Khan and his younger siblings seem like well-adjusted Americans, yet Khan dreamed of living in the Islamic State group's "Islamic utopia." Bergen recounts the familiar stories of John Walker Lindh and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but his most startling chapters focus on little-known jihadis like Zachary Chesser, who threatened the creators of South Park, and Carlos Bledsoe, who fired on U.S. servicemen. Throughout the book, the violence seems random and unpredictable. Some characters, like imam Anwar al-Awlaki, appear moderate and peaceful, but they harbor grim secrets: al-Awlaki hired sex workers, wrote militant manifestos, and worked with al-Qaida. A lesser author might have written an anti-immigrant rant, but Bergen approaches the problem of "domestic jihad" as a puzzle to be solved, carefully peeling back the complex layers of the Muslim world. "Of course, only a tiny minority of Muslims are willing to do violence in the name of Allah," he writes, "and Muslims as a group are certainly no more violent than the adherents of any other religion." Thorough research reveals how interwoven these conspirators are, and the clerics who inspire violence on the Internet seem nearly as dangerous as the actual perpetrators. Despite the bleak subject matter, Bergen remains optimistic. Terrorism is "a persistent low-level threat that will likely take many, many years before it withers and dies," he writes, yet a "message of understanding, mutual respect, and open dialogue seems like a good way to move forward." Thoughtful and sensitive, Bergen's book faces a nightmare scenario head-on.
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Meet the Author
Peter Bergen is the author of four previous books about terrorism, three of which were New York Times bestsellers. He is CNN’s national security analyst, vice president at New America, and a professor at Arizona State University. Bergen has held teaching positions at Harvard and at Johns Hopkins University and is a graduate of Oxford. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, documentary producer Tresha Mabile, and their two children. Find him at PeterBergen.com.
From the Hardcover edition.
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