-Executive Summary-

Local law enforcement agencies in the United States are an integral component of the homeland security apparatus. When terror plots are carried out in the homeland, local law enforcement agencies are often, if not always, the first to respond. With over 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies spread throughout the United States, they provide a necessary and substantial resource for combatting terrorism.[1] Foreign-influenced terrorism in the United States remains a constant threat to the homeland as demonstrated in the attacks on the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport; the Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas; Fort Hood, Texas; the Boston Marathon; the San Bernardino Department of Public Health, and many more.[2] This thesis addresses the causes of foreign-influenced terrorism in the United States by analyzing recruitment methods, radicalization processes, local law enforcement strategies, and local law enforcement training and provides recommendations for local law enforcement to strengthen its role in disrupting foreign-influenced terror in the homeland.

This thesis draws on academic works that analyze what foreign-influenced terrorism is and why it occurs. This research does not focus on a singular group or foreign terrorist organization; rather, it examines different terrorist groups, their ideologies, and the influence they impart on individuals and groups of individuals to do harm inside the United States. Understanding why an individual, or group of individuals, is attracted to an ideology of terror is important for local law enforcement to combat the threats it faces. Social identity theory and the social identity analytical method can be useful in evaluating group behavior to understand actions and ideologies, as well as why individuals may radicalize and join terrorist groups.[3]

Understanding the dynamics of group terrorism, lone-wolf terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, and inmate radicalization is key to identifying strategies for local law enforcement agencies to disrupt and prevent attacks in their communities. Local law enforcement agencies are in a unique position to identify individuals who may be radicalizing in their communities due to the daily interactions they have with their citizens. The concept of community-oriented policing is crucial to solving problems in a community; however, this concept can also be applied to preventing and disrupting foreign-influenced terrorism through the early identification of at-risk individuals. Community-oriented policing is based on Sir Robert Peel’s policing principles, which state that police are at the service of the public.[4] The concepts behind community-oriented policing emphasize bringing the community and the police together to work in partnership to solve common problems. These partnerships can be expanded upon within communities to combat the threat of foreign-influenced terrorism, just as they are used to combat narcotics trafficking, criminal street gang activity, and other crimes and quality-of-life issues.

Training for local law enforcement officers is the foundation for their success in protecting the communities they serve, but different jurisdictions around the United States have different training needs, specialties, and requirements. The types and levels of training also vary depending on the size of agencies and the populations they serve, as well as the threat streams each agency faces. Regarding terrorism training, there is no national standard for local law enforcement. Regular, routine policing activities and training are often relied on to identify terrorist activity and disrupt attacks.[5] States continue to evolve as the threat landscape changes and updates are continuously implemented for entry-level and advanced peace officer training. California, for example, has expanded its basic academy curriculum to include terrorist threats and ideologies, prevention/deterrence concepts, critical infrastructure protection, and intelligence cycle and intelligence resources.[6]

In addition to reviewing existing literature from subject-matter experts on radicalization, terrorist recruitment, and law enforcement training and strategies, this thesis examines several case studies of foreign-influenced attacks and a foiled plot in the United States. In some of the case studies, it was later learned that the individuals who carried out the attacks had been brought to the attention of federal authorities before the attacks occurred.[7] The case studies are instrumental in examining the processes of radicalization and terrorist recruitment, as well as identifying the reasons these individuals supported the ideologies of foreign terrorist organizations. Additionally, the case studies provide insight into what strategies local law enforcement used to combat these threats and what worked and did not work at different government levels.

This thesis concludes with recommendations for local law enforcement to disrupt the threat of foreign-influenced terrorism. The findings of this research reveal that the threat of foreign-influenced terrorism in the United States remains serious, and there are many methods for terrorist organizations to recruit and radicalize, mainly through the internet and social media platforms. Through analyzing the literature, as well as case studies, this thesis identifies numerous strategies for local law enforcement to implement to disrupt the threat of foreign-influenced terrorism. The identified strategies and recommendations include standardized nationwide terrorism awareness training, indoctrination of community-oriented policing in at-risk communities, enhanced sharing of information with fusion centers and task forces, increased relationships with federal agencies, participation in terrorism liaison officer–type programs, increased training and information sharing with non–law enforcement public safety agencies, collaboration with behavioral health and other local public safety agencies, and continuous professional training throughout law enforcement officers’ careers. However, this thesis finds that some areas need additional research to further identify the efficacy of existing strategies and enhance the effectiveness of local law enforcement in the homeland security enterprise.


[1] Duren Banks et al., National Sources of Law Enforcement Employment Data, NCJ 249681 (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 2016), https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/nsleed.pdf.

[2] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Lone Wolf Islamic Terrorism: Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Carlos Bledsoe) Case Study,” Terrorism and Political Violence 26, no. 1 (January 2014): 110–28, https://doi.org/‌10.1080/09546553.2014.849921; Jeremiah J. Hart, “Strategic Mutual Aid Response to Terrorism: A New Approach” (master’s thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2020), http://hdl.handle.net/10945/64938; Michael John Garcia and Ruth Ellen Wasem, 9/11 Commission: Legislative Action Concerning U.S. Immigration Law and Policy in the 108th Congress, CRS Report No. RL32616 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2004), ProQuest; Jeffrey Kaplan, Heléne Lööw, and Leena Malkki, “Introduction to the Special Issue on Lone Wolf and Autonomous Cell Terrorism,” Terrorism and Political Violence 26, no. 1 (2014): 1–12, https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2014.854032; Zoe Marchment, Noémie Bouhana, and Paul Gill, “Lone Actor Terrorists: A Residence-to-Crime Approach,” Terrorism and Political Violence 32, no. 7 (2020): 1413–38, https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2018.1481050; Gillian Youngs, “Media and Mediation in the ‘War on Terror’: Issues and Challenges,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 2, no. 1 (2009): 95–102, https://doi.org/10.1080/17539150902752846; Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko, “Toward a Profile of Lone Wolf Terrorists: What Moves an Individual from Radical Opinion to Radical Action,” Terrorism and Political Violence 26, no. 1 (2014): 69–85, https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2014.849916.

[3] David Brannan, Anders Strindberg, and Kristin Darken, A Practitioner’s Way Forward: Terrorism Analysis (Salinas, CA: Agile Press, 2014), 49. See also Anders Strindberg, Social Identity Theory and the Study of Terrorism and Violent Extremism (Stockholm: FOI, 2020), 17–25.

[4] Nadav Morag, Comparative Homeland Security: Global Lessons, 2nd ed. (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018), 190.

[5] Christopher Hewitt, “Law Enforcement Tactics and Their Effectiveness in Dealing with American Terrorism: Organizations, Autonomous Cells, and Lone Wolves,” Terrorism and Political Violence 26, no. 1 (2014): 61, https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2014.849913.

[6] “Legislative Mandated Training,” California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, June 27, 2022, https://post.ca.gov/legislative-mandated-training.

[7] Caroline Joan “Kay” S. Picart, American Self-Radicalizing Terrorists and the Allure of “Jihadi Cool/Chic” (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017), 146, ProQuest.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top