To hear some groups tell it, scores of American Muslims are being radicalized to engage in violent jihad against Western targets.
Not so, says a new study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a think tank of experts from Duke, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and RTI International.
The center, which tracks terror-related legal proceedings and news reports from across the country, reports that the number of U.S.-instigated terrorist incidents dropped by more than half in 2010.
."Even one terrorist incident is one too many," said Charles Kurzman, the report's author and the co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations. "But what I'm hoping for is a realistic debate about the terrorist threat based on the actual scope and scale in the U.S. and elsewhere."
Last year, 20 Muslim-Americans were named as suspects or convicted of committing terrorist acts domestically or abroad, down from 47 in 2009. In comparison, there are about 15,000 murders each year in the U.S.
Of the 20 people studied, only five carried out their plots. The most noteworthy incident took place in New York City in May when Faisal Shahzad attempted but failed to detonate a car bomb in Times Square.
Kurzman's study focused incidents that were made public, either through the legal system or the media.
"If there are secret proceedings or people being deported, we wouldn't know about that," he said.
Kurzman attributed the 2009 spike to 17 Somali-Americans who joined al-Shabaab, a radical militant group in Somalia. The 2009 figures also include the indictments of seven North Carolina-based men arrested in what federal prosecutors say was a plot to provide support to terrorists.
The report dovetails with monthly reports issued by the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C.
"Overall, there is a challenge out there, but it's not a pandemic," said Alejandro Beutel, government and policy analyst with the council.
Beutel said his database, which draws on reports from the Congressional Research Service and the Heritage Foundation, also finds that Muslim Americans provided many of the tips that thwarted terrorist attacks.
"Since 9/11, four out of 10 al-Qaida plots have been foiled with the assistance of the Muslim community," Beutel said. "Within the past year, that number has spiked to 75 percent."
Kurzman said his report suggests that although there are 1 billion Muslims worldwide, the threat of Islamic terrorism is exaggerated.
"The fear of Islamic terror has outpaced the actual death toll," he said.
(Contact Yonat Shimron at yonat.shimron(at)newsobserver.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)