Military a Growing Terrorist Target, Lawmakers Warn

Dec 7, 2011 Issues: Domestic Radicalization / Radicalization Hearings

FoxNews -- by Catherine Herridge

There is growing evidence that homegrown terrorists see military personnel and bases as legitimate, high-value targets, lawmakers said ahead of a joint session of the House and Senate Homeland Security.

"People in uniform are symbols of the United States. They're symbols of America power, symbols of America might," Rep. Peter King of New York, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News. "And if they (military personnel) can be killed, then that is a great propaganda victory for Al Qaeda."

King said there is also evidence that extremists have joined the services. "There is a serious threat within the military from people who have enlisted who are radical jihadists," King stated. "The Defense Department is very concerned about them. They feel they're a threat to the military both for what they can do within the military itself and also because of the weapons skills they acquire while they're in the military."

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, agreed.

"The records show that the United States military has become a direct target of violent Islamist extremism here in the U.S., and that means soldiers and perhaps their families are potentially vulnerable at work and at rest, in a military setting or a civilian one," he told Fox News.

Since the Fort Hood massacre in 2009 that left 13 killed and dozens more wounded, the number of alleged plots targeting the military has grown significantly. In June, two men allegedly plotted to attack a Seattle, Wash., military installation using guns and grenades. In July, Army Pvt. Naser Abdo was accused of planning a second attack on Fort Hood. And in November, New York police arrested Jose Pimentel, who alleged sought to kill service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both Pimentel and Abdo allegedly drew inspiration from the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and the online jihadist magazine Inspire, which includes a spread on how to "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."

"The stark reality is that the American service member is increasingly in the terrorists' scope and not just overseas in a traditional war setting," Lieberman said.

The witnesses scheduled to testify before the joint session on Wednesday, include Paul N. Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense; Jim Stuteville, U.S. Army senior adviser for counterintelligence operations and liaison to the FBI; Lt. Col. Reid L. Sawyer, director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and Daris Long, whose son, Army Pvt. William Andrew Long, was shot and killed at an Arkansas military recruitment center in 2009. The shooter, Carlos Bledsoe, pleaded guilty to the crime earlier this year. In a letter to the court, Bledsoe said he carried out the attack on behalf of Al Qaeda in Yemen-- the group that was behind the last two major plots targeting the U.S. airline industry.

Rep. King said the Web is the driver of the new digital jihad.

"It enables people -- rather than having to travel to Afghanistan to learn about jihad or to be trained, they can do it right over the Internet," he said. "And this is a growing role."

And while al-Awlaki and his colleague Samir Khan, who was behind the magazine Inspire, were killed in a CIA-led operation in September, King warned against overconfidence that Al Qaeda in Yemen was done.

"This is a definite short-term victory for us. There's no doubt they are going to regroup, that there will be others who will be providing Internet data, inspiration to jihadists in this country, instructions on how to make bombs," he said.

While King was heavily criticized, in some quarters, for launching his hearings 10 months ago on homegrown terrorism, the congressman said Wednesday's joint session showed that the threat is legitimate, and recognized as such by other members of Congress.

"To me it's a validation of what I've been trying to do all year," King emphasized. "There's a definite threat from Islamic radicalization in various parts of our society, including within the military, and we can't allow political correctness to keep us from exposing this threat for what it is."