LIANE HANSEN, host:
Attorney General Eric Holder said to day the Pakistani Taliban was involved in last weekend's attempted car bombing in New York's Time Square. The incident has been a wakeup call for counterterrorism officials. Many experts thought that the ease with which immigrants to the United States could better themselves meant that they were less vulnerable to radicalization and as a result, wouldn't attack within America's borders. But the Times Square plot is more proof that has changed.
NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston has this report.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Recently, the terrorists who have been seeking to attack the U.S. have been among us. They are the jihadis next door.
Mr. PHIL MUDD (Former Senior Intelligence Advisor, FBI): I think that what we're seeing is kind of a metastasized al-Qaida.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Phil Mudd. He's the FBI's former senior intelligence advisor.
Mr. MUDD: That is, slowly - we've seen in this Europe and now we're seeing it here, slowly you're not only getting al-Qaida operatives conducting operations, you're getting people who have absorbed the message, who see reports, I'm sure, of civilians dying and drone strikes in Pakistan, who see U.S. support for a Pakistani army who's putting incredible pressure not only on al-Qaida but on Pakistani villages and saying, I want to do something about it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And some of the people wanting to do something about it are longtime residents in America. Najibullah Zazi, the man behind the New York City subway plot, was just a month away from applying for a green card. Or Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bombing suspect who held an American passport.
Ms. KAREN GREENBERG (Executive Director, NYU Law and Security Center): I think we are moving towards the - what we would call the British model, something that the United States has taken great pride in differentiating itself from over the past seven or eight years.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Karen Greenberg is the executive director of NYU's Law and Security Center. She says the British radicalization model typically involved someone from South Asia or Pakistan who went to the U.K. for an education, built a life there, and then for some reason - personal or political or both -made their way to terrorist training camps.
Ms. GREENBERG: It is tied, at least as the British authorities see it and have seen it for many years, to a stage in Pakistan and then a return to the United Kingdom and then to carry out acts of terrorism.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The alleged Times Square bomber seems to have taken that very path. He came to the U.S. 11 years ago, went to college here, earned an MBA, worked as a financial analyst and owned a house in Connecticut. About a year ago, he became a naturalized citizen. And then just a short time after that, according to court papers, he traveled to Pakistan, got explosives training with a militant group there and returned to attack the U.S.
Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman said Shahzad should end any complacency about how homegrown terrorism can't happen here. The U.K., he said, made the same mistake. They thought it couldn't happen to them either.
Mr. BRUCE HOFFMAN: They said British society is very different. This is a problem that exists only on the European continent and it won't affect us.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Then homegrown suicide bombers attacked the London transportation system. That was on July 7th, 2005.
Mr. HOFFMAN: And, of course, they had a rude awakening and we're now -fortunately, there hasn't been the same tragedy that occurred in London five years ago, but if Ive ever heard a resounding wake-up call, we're hearing it right now.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Hoffman says we shouldve seen it coming. The first indication came when young Somalis from Minneapolis started traveling to Somalia to train with an al-Qaida-affiliated group there. At the time, it was seen as an isolated phenomenon. Now, Hoffman says, it's clear that radicalization was occurring elsewhere in the United States.
Mr. HOFFMAN: And not taking this trend more seriously was really like, you know, was really like ignoring a Pandora's box that had been opened with the Somalis and where we see someone like Shahzad is just the latest guy to jump out of it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square suspect, has been cooperating with authorities. What he tells them could help counterterrorism officials figure out how to deal with potential terrorists among us.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.