Homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) are individuals inspired—as opposed to directed—by foreign terrorist organizations and radicalized in the countries in which they are born, raised, or reside.
While international terrorist organizations have encouraged HVEs to carry out attacks, in many instances, personal grievances influence their ideology, target selection, and violent acts.
HVEs may draw inspiration from multiple foreign terrorist organizations and become radicalized through a variety of methods, including online. Foreign terrorist groups and their supporters will produce and disseminate propaganda on social media—including Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram—and various online platforms in order to encourage attacks in the West or support terrorists overseas.
Threat to New Jersey: High
HVEs pose the greatest threat to New Jersey due to their presence in the United States, ability to conduct and plot attacks using simple methods, and susceptibility to online terrorist propaganda. An NJOHSP review has identified at least 179 HVEs between 2015-18, with 34 arrested in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania for conducting attacks, organizing plots, and providing material support to foreign terrorist groups, namely ISIS and al-Qa’ida.
In July, authorities arrested Demetrius Pitts of Ohio for plotting to attack a celebration in downtown Cleveland on July 4. Pitts conducted surveillance on a park and a US Coast Guard station and wanted to kill US military personnel and their families. Pitts also expressed an interest in conducting an attack in Philadelphia. Federal authorities charged Pitts with providing material support to al-Qa’ida.
In October 2017, authorities arrested New Jersey resident Sayfullo Saipov after he drove a rented truck down a bike path in New York City, killing eight and injuring 11. In February 2017, authorities arrested New Jersey resident Gregory Lepsky for attempting to build a pressure-cooker bomb and detonate it in New York City. Both Saipov and Lepsky supported ISIS. In March 2018, Lepsky pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
In March 2017, authorities arrested Elvis Redzepagic of New York, who “made numerous attempts to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad.” Redzepagic reached out to sympathizers online after seeing images of his cousin fighting overseas. Redzepagic supported both ISIS and Nusrah Front and traveled to Turkey in 2015 and to Jordan in 2016 in unsuccessful attempts to enter Syria.
Foreign terrorist group leaders have historically created propaganda to inspire supporters around the world to either target the United States or join them overseas. In December, al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video encouraging sympathizers to join the group’s ranks overseas. In August, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement encouraging supporters to conduct simple attacks in their countries of residence.
HVEs are made up of a diverse group of individuals, both male and female, and reside in different regions around the country. Of the 15 HVE arrests last year, authorities apprehended 11 men and four women from at least 12 different states—11 supported ISIS and four supported al-Qa’ida. Additionally, Syrian Democratic Forces captured a man and woman on the battlefield in Syria and extradited them to the United States to face trial.