A frightening survey of Islamic terrorists bred on American soil.
As a reporter, CNN national security analyst Bergen (Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden—from 9/11 to Abbottabad, 2012, etc.) won enormous respect for interviewing Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks. Now he describes a foggier threat to national security: terrorists born and raised in the U.S. He opens with Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an Illinois teenager who attempted to fly to Turkey in order to join the Islamic State group. Like most of the author’s subjects, Khan and his younger siblings seem like well-adjusted Americans, yet Khan dreamed of living in the Islamic State group’s “Islamic utopia.” Bergen recounts the familiar stories of John Walker Lindh and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but his most startling chapters focus on little-known jihadis like Zachary Chesser, who threatened the creators of South Park, and Carlos Bledsoe, who fired on U.S. servicemen. Throughout the book, the violence seems random and unpredictable. Some characters, like imam Anwar al-Awlaki, appear moderate and peaceful, but they harbor grim secrets: al-Awlaki hired sex workers, wrote militant manifestos, and worked with al-Qaida. A lesser author might have written an anti-immigrant rant, but Bergen approaches the problem of “domestic jihad” as a puzzle to be solved, carefully peeling back the complex layers of the Muslim world. “Of course, only a tiny minority of Muslims are willing to do violence in the name of Allah,” he writes, “and Muslims as a group are certainly no more violent than the adherents of any other religion.” Thorough research reveals how interwoven these conspirators are, and the clerics who inspire violence on the Internet seem nearly as dangerous as the actual perpetrators. Despite the bleak subject matter, Bergen remains optimistic. Terrorism is “a persistent low-level threat that will likely take many, many years before it withers and dies,” he writes, yet a “message of understanding, mutual respect, and open dialogue seems like a good way to move forward.”
Thoughtful and sensitive, Bergen’s book faces a nightmare scenario head-on.