The Muslim man who injured 11 people during a car-and-knife attack  at Ohio State University lived in a county where the Islamic population is above the national average — a fact some terrorism experts contend is no coincidence.
Clare Lopez, a former CIA operations officer who serves as vice president of research and analysis at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, said the experience of European countries is that terrorism hot spots can develop in places where the Muslim population reaches a tipping point — somewhere in the range of 3 percent to 5 percent.
“We’re looking at a group of people who don’t intend to assimilate … It’s not about geography … It’s what they carry in their heads and hearts.”
“We can look for Europe for areas that have become literally ‘no-go’ zones,” said Lopez, who was an adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. “We’ve got this pattern ahead of us in Europe. And we’re beginning to see it here.”
A religious census conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies shows that Abdul Razak Ali Artan’s home, Franklin County in Ohio, has a Muslim population of about 1.3 percent. In 2010, according to the religious census, Franklin County had 15,578 Muslims. That was the 34th highest in the nation. The 17 Muslim congregations ranked as the 19th most in the country.
A review of data compiled earlier this year by Senate Subcommittee on Immigration shows that 16 people convicted in federal courts since 2015 on terrorism-related charges entered the United States as refugees — as Artan apparently did. Several came from counties with relatively high percentages of Muslims:
- Liban Haji Mohamed, a Somali refugee convicted of providing material support to al-Qaida. He was living in Fairfax County, Virginia, where 4.6 percent of residents are Muslims.
- Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, a Palestinian convicted of trying to provide material support to the Islamic State. He was living in Harris County, Texas, with a Muslim population of 2.9 percent.
- Mediha Medy Salkicevic, a Bosnian refugee convicted of providing material support to terrorists. His home, Cook County, Illinois, has a Muslim population of 3.9 percent.
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Others on the list lived in counties where the overall Islamic population is small but has significant pockets of Muslims. Minneapolis resident Abdirahman Yasin Daud, for instance, was convicted of attempting to provide material support to ISIS. Although Muslims make up only .67 percent of the population of Hennepin County, Minneapolis has a Muslim Somali population established enough that one neighborhood is nicknamed “Little Mogadishu.” The county’s 23 Muslim congregations are the 11th most in the country.
Radical Views Common
Surveys have shown high percentages of Muslims from certain countries believe Sharia law should form the basis of civil law and favor jihadi principles. Lopez said many Muslims who immigrate to the United States bring these beliefs with them. She pointed to a video shot by David Horowitz Freedom Center last year in which Muslim after Muslim in the Cedar Riverside section of Minneapolis said they preferred Sharia law over American law and wished they lived in a majority-Muslim nation. .
“We’re looking at a group of people who don’t intend to assimilate … It’s not about geography,” she said. “It’s not about where they come from. It’s what they carry in their heads and hearts.”
Jessica Vaughan, a former foreign service officer at the State Department who currently serves as director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Research, said high numbers of Muslims can incubate terrorism — particularly if there is a radicalizing spark. She pointed to the Islamic Society of Boston, a mosque attended by Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
In addition to Tsarnaev, the mosque’s founders were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of them, Abdurahman Alamoudi, pleaded guilty in 2004 for conducting illegal transactions with the Libyan government and his partial role in a conspiracy to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
“I believe there are clusters, and I think sometimes it has to do with particular mosques,” Vaughan said.
Kyle Shideler, director of threat assessment at the Center for Security Policy, said America’s openness ironically makes grooming of would-be terrorists easier in some cases than in Middle Eastern nations.
“It’s a message they wouldn’t necessarily hear in their home country,” he said, referring to tight controls imposed by secular governments.
Shideler rejected the notion, promoted by many Islamic groups in the United States, that American Muslims go astray because of propaganda they come across online.
“The internet is kind of a pull technology,” he said. “You pull information that you’re looking for to you … The internet is not going to just throw it at you.”
Steve Emerson, founder of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, also rejected the idea of self-radicalization.
“There’s almost always an outside influence,” he said. “The notion of spontaneous combustion of Islamism because of pushed buttons on a computer is a very facile explanation.”
Emerson said in nearly every case of domestic terrorism, the perpetrator believed the West is at war with Islam.
“That belief is promoted not just by ISIS but by [many of] the Islamic organizations in the United States,” he said.
More Than a Religion
Lopez said policymakers must recognize that Islam is not merely a religion.
“It is a legal system … that is antithetical to the Constitution and is spread by military might,” she said.
Combating the rise of domestic terrorism defies easy answers. Lopez and Shideler said part of the solution must include politically sensitive and controversial steps like monitoring mosques for radical preaching. Lopez said radical textbooks used in American Islamic schools are readily available for review online.
But Emerson said such steps can only go so far. He said officials should work to delegitimize Islamic groups with ties to extremist organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He added that part of the solution needs to come from the American Muslim community, itself.
“Civil liberties have to be respected,” he said. “You would hope moderate Muslims would come forward.”
Lopez said America needs a new strategy for determining which Muslims should be permitted to move to the United States. She said that will require training for immigration officials on what questions to ask and how to determine if applicants are telling the truth. She added that the government must stop relying solely on databases because many people with extremist views have not committed acts that would land them on such a database.
The government should also ask Muslims immigrating to the United States to pledge allegiance to the Constitution, Lopez said.
“These calls for a moratorium really need to get to why we’re having so much trouble,” she said.