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Connecting the terrorist dots of 2009

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To understand, we have to consider lesser-known activists, like Daniel Patrick Boyd, a white US citizen and convert to Islam accused of leading a jihadist group in North Carolina, and Bryant Neal Vinas, an Hispanic US citizen from Long Island, N.Y., who pleaded guilty last year to assisting Al Qaeda and other terrorism-related charges.

These men are not devout Middle Eastern Muslims who left a war-torn fundamentalist Arab society to attack the West. Most have only distant connections with the Middle East. Converts are overrepresented among Al Qaeda activists, from Jose Padilla to Dhiren Barot, who was sentenced in the UK in 2006 for planning to bomb the New York Stock Exchange (and other sites).

How to connect the dots?

They are first of all globalized young people identifying with a virtual and imaginary Muslim ummah. Their life is often spent along a triangle: The family comes from one country; they move to a Western country (or were born there), where they become radicalized; and go to fight in a third one.

In fact, neither Pakistan nor Yemen nor Afghanistan is the key place for radicalization. These terrorists go there after being radicalized in the West or in a Western environment. And radicalization does not occur in a concrete political praxis with real people but in a solitary experience of a virtual community: the ummah on the Web.

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