The number of homegrown terrorism plots hatched by Muslim-Americans has declined over the last three years, and such plots remain relatively rare despite public fears, according to a study by a UNC-Chapel Hill sociology professor.
Charles Kurzman has used data from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Center on Law and Security at New York University, as well as media sources such as CNN, to chronicle homegrown terrorism over the past eleven years.
Kurzman concludes the number of Muslim-Americans who engage in violence against the United States has stayed "tiny" compared with the more than 2 million Muslim residents.
"The public perception of threat does not match actual case-by-case attacks," he said in an interview. "We're getting a skewed perception of the prevalence of these figures."
Kurzman's eight-page report released this week shows how many violent plots have been carried out or were interrupted by federal agencies, and the number of fatalities related to each one.
Twenty Muslim-Americans were charged with terrorism crimes in 2011, down from close to 50 in 2009, a year Kurzman calls an "anomaly." That was the year that eight men in Johnston County were charged with helping fund and train for jihadist attacks against "enemies of Islam."
Kurzman also found that the number of Muslim-Americans charged with supporting terrorism, with money or information, declined to eight in 2011, the lowest number since the9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Kurzman acknowledges that "homegrown radicalization is still a problem" but says Americans need to remain vigilant "while maintaining a responsible sense of proportion."
When Kurzman released a similar study last year, U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York claimed that the "percentages were skewed because they left out a number of cases." Kurzman says he welcomes any new information he might have missed.
"This is a scholarly study. We took great lengths to include all cases, but if we missed any, I would be happy to adjust the database," he said. "I have no political agenda except to encourage public debates on the topic be based on evidence and not fear."
The study was published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a joint project of UNC-CH, Duke University and the Research Triangle Institute. The center's director, David Schanzer, says the study demonstrates that for now, homegrown terrorism is on the wane.
"We have to put it in context," Schanzer said. "This is a real threat, but it's a diminishing one."
The most serious home-grown terrorist attack remains the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 that killed 13. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder and is scheduled to go to trial later this year.