BOSTON (CBS) – Homegrown terrorists are now the number one concern of the FBI. They are often called lone wolves and attacks can come almost without warning.
The I-Team has learned investigators have several active investigations into would be terrorists in every state in New England.
It mirrors a national concern. Already in 2015 there have been 35 people arrested. That is considerably more than in all of 2014 or 2013.
Boston’s FBI office says it is a concerning spike in terrorist activity. And the head of Washington D.C.’s field office expressed concern at being able to stop attackers.
“At some point our traditional investigative approaches and capabilities will be outstripped by the sheer numbers we’re facing,” said Andrew McCabe, the director of the DC bureau.
Experts tell the I-Team since 9/11 law enforcement has been successful at preventing the kind of large scale organized terrorist attack like what happened here at the World Trade Center. Lone wolf threats are harder to predict and to prevent. That was proven at the Boston Marathon Bombing.
The spike in arrests can be attributed to the emergence of ISIS and their sophisticated recruiting techniques.
“The number of arrests of people. It’s really unprecedented,” said Oren Segal who heads the Center on Extremism for the Anti-Defamation League.
He has been tracking terror groups online. He’s seen how nimbly ISIS moves between social media platforms. Their slick propaganda is aimed at Western youth. They will embed their message in more mainstream places.
In a recent example, the group used the Twitter hashtag #baltimoreriots on their propaganda tweets to get their message in front of potentially disenchanted Americans.
“Isis and its supporters have dedicated tons of resources in trying to reach people in ways that we just haven’t seen ever before,” Segal said. “What they’re trying to do is put a real western face on ISIS.”
“We have to prevent a lot. The problem is the terrorists only have to be lucky once, successful once to cause a great deal of panic and worry,” said Mia Bloom, a professor at UMass Lowell.
Experts say the new crop of extremists are shockingly young. They include teenage girls from Colorado and Illinois and a group of young men under 21 from Minnesota.
“These folks are very adept at getting young people to open up, to share their feelings. And to connect with them,” says Dr. Nabeel Khudairi of Norwood.
He likens extremist groups to sex predators or gang recruiters in their efforts to reach vulnerable children.
Khudairi is also the father of a teenage boy. That’s why working through the Islamic Council of New England to keep local kids from making bad choices.
“If we’re going to do battle against extremists, we have to bring something in the same genre of social media to balance a young person’s opinion of what to do,” he explained.
Khudairi points out that Islamic terrorism is a small part of the threat in the United States. Islam is not to blame, still he says his community needs to respond.
“We can’t pretend that it’s an issue we should shrug off,” he said.
Authorities agree. They say strong relationships with the Muslim community and parents like Khudairi may be the best defense, a homegrown solution to a growing threat.