The New Jersey state Office of Homeland Security has ranked homegrown terrorism as the highest threat facing New Jersey and the rest of the United States.
Chris Rodriguez, the office’s director, said “the public is really on the front lines” in an era of lone-wolf assaults.
His report, 2017 Terrorism Threat Assessment, which was declassified and released by the office on Tuesday, found homegrown violent extremists – defined as those inspired by foreign extremist groups but radicalized in the countries where they live – were the only category presenting a “high” threat level to the state.
A review done by the Homeland Security office found 22 domestic terror attacks and 17 plots, threats of violence, and instances of weapons stockpiling in 2016. The previous year, the office counted just 16 instances in each category.
The report describes lessons learned from the string of bombings in New York and New Jersey allegedly carried out last year by Elizabeth resident Ahmed Khan Rahimi, who officials describe as a “textbook example of a homegrown violent extremist.”
In his interview with NJ Advanced Media, Rodriguez said “such suspects are among the most difficult for law enforcement to detect, but added there are “disruption points” in the run-up to their attacks where relatives, community members, and religious figures can intervene. ”
Rodriguez said, “It was the bar owner in Linden who saw Rahimi — or someone matching his description, sleeping in the doorway of his establishment — that led Linden police to Rahimi’s location. It was two members of the public who saw the backpack at the Elizabeth train station with the pipe bombs in it who reported that to police.”
John Cohen, a Rutgers University professor and former official at the federal Department of Homeland Security, told NJ Advance Media the report’s findings are “in line with what we’re seeing nationally.”
Cohen said, “Today the most significant threat facing the U.S. is people who are inspired by extreme ideology, willing to commit mass murder on behalf of that ideology, but unconnected to any specific terrorism organization.”
The report rates seven other distinct extremist groups as a “moderate” threat. Those groups range from foreign entities such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State to anarchist, black and white separatist, sovereign citizen and militia extremists here in the United States.
Those groups range from foreign entities such as “al-Qaida and the Islamic State to anarchist, black and white separatist, sovereign citizen and militia extremists here in the United States.”
It ranks as a “low” threat a series of other foreign groups, as well as domestic groups with little activity in and around New Jersey, such as animal rights or anti-abortion extremists.
Rodriguez stated, “For us, the measuring stick is committing violence. Up to that point, an individual — a white supremacist, a neo-Nazi — can say whatever they want under the constitution. But it’s when it comes to violence is when that raises our attention.”
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