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Press Release

ADL Report Explores How Online Terrorist Propaganda Inspires and Radicalizes Homegrown Extremists

New York, NY, March 18, 2014 … Many of the American citizens or permanent residents implicated in the United States last year on terrorism-related charges -- ranging from domestic plots and conspiracies to providing material support to terrorists abroad -- had something in common, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued today. They were radicalized, in part, by terrorist propaganda easily accessible online.

And their attempts to carry out attacks or to join terrorist groups abroad – while not always successful -- have encouraged Islamic terrorist movements overseas to redouble their efforts to exploit new technology in order to make more accessible materials that justify and sanction violence, according to “Homegrown Islamic Extremism in 2013: The Perils of Online Recruitment & Self-Radicalization.”

“If we are to learn anything from the terrorists and would-be terrorists who emerged in the U.S. in 2013 and over the last several years, it is that face-to-face interaction with terrorist operatives is no longer a requirement for radicalization,” said Oren Segal, Director of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “Individual extremists are increasingly self-radicalizing online with no physical interactions with established terrorist groups or cells.”

Terrorist groups, according to ADL, have demonstrated a commitment to adapting their messages to new technologies in order to spread their messages and to actively recruit adherents who live in the communities they seek to target.

The March 15 release of the Spring 2014 issue of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language propaganda magazine, Inspire, which provides detailed instructions on how to build a car bomb and suggests locations to plant them in major U.S. cities, is the latest manifestation of this trend.  According to ADL, the new issue of Inspire is replete with anti-Semitic statements. For example, it seeks to recruit terrorists by calling on readers to fight “…the real face of falsity and evil hidden by America and the West and the Jewish gangs that rule and dominate both of them.”

“Inspire and other similar propaganda materials have influenced a generation of homegrown extremists ­more quickly and effectively than we could have imagined a decade ago. These materials can have deadly consequences and impact our domestic security,” said Mr. Segal.

ADL’s report cites the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing as an example of the magnitude of the threat posed by online terrorist propaganda. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving bombing suspect, reportedly told law enforcement officials that he and his brother, Tamerlan, learned how to make the bombs they used from the pages of Inspire and were also inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki’s radical online sermons. Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

Despite his death, Al-Awlaki’s messages continue to spread around the globe through Inspire and various online platforms, including a Facebook page called “Generation Awlaki.” The page, followed most heavily by 18 to 24 year-olds, has attracted numerous comments, primarily in English.

The ADL report details how various terrorist plots hatched in the last five years were inspired by online propaganda, citing the terrorism-related arrests of American citizens and permanent residents in New York, Chicago, Tampa, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Portland and Fort Hood, Texas. 

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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