ISIS and the conspiracy theorist next door: The top terrorist threats to NJ
New Jersey counterterrorism officials consider homegrown extremists, who take inspiration from foreign terrorist organizations, as the greatest threat to the state.
Not far behind in the threat assessment are those foreign groups themselves — ISIS and al-Qaida — as well as radical white supremacists and separatist militias living in our neighborhoods, according to the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
The Garden State and the New York City metropolitan area were on edge in mid-September after a pipe bomb explosion canceled a military charity race in Seaside Park on a Saturday morning, followed hours later by an explosion in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, injuring nearly 30 people.
The same day, a man wearing private security uniform stabbed eight people at a Minnesota shopping mall. He reportedly asked one victim if he was Muslim and was heard saying "Allah," the Arabic word for God.
Authorities have not connected the three attacks, and terrorist groups had not claimed responsibility by Sunday morning.
There were no injuries in the Seaside Park blast because the race had been delayed by half an hour and the device, designed to blast shrapnel from the plastic garbage can it was placed in, did not fully detonate, officials said.
Gov. Chris Christie that weekend said the attack was "clearly an act of terrorism" even though authorities were not sure at the time who was behind it.
Last year authorities made five counterterrorism arrests in New Jersey — all with ties to ISIS, a group that has perpetrated deadly attacks in war-torn Iraq and Siria as well as Paris and Nice in France, Tunisia, Beirut, Istanbul and Brussels.
Both New Jersey and California had the second-highest number of arrests. New York had the most with 13.
Here is how the state ranks the threats against the Garden State
New Jersey's highest threat
Homegrown violent extremists
Authorities describe them as people who are radicalized by overseas groups via the internet. Officials say these extremists "will remain New Jersey’s most likely and persistent threat" in 2016.
New Jersey's moderate threats
Ranked highest to lowest.
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
ISIS, which has an estimated funding of $2 billion, "has the operational capacity to strike inside the West—underscoring the threat to New Jersey, the region, and the United States," state Homeland Security officials said in their January report.
The state report said this terrorist network "will remain a threat to New Jersey, the region, and the United States in 2016 because the group has demonstrated an ability to act outside its primary area of operations in Yemen, and it has attempted to strike the United States on three occasions since 2009."
The state says right-wing militia groups fueled by anti-government conspiracy theories have been actively recruiting here since 2011. Last year, an Arizona-based militia member made threats against Muslim Day at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, officials said.
So-called sovereign citizens "believe federal, state, and local governments are illegitimate." They often engage in nonviolent actions, such as trying to convene "common law grand juries" to indict public officials or filling false liens against government officials. But some also have been involved in police shootings and violent plots, officials say.
White supremacists have been involved in 77 percent of the nation's extremist-related murders since 2015.
"The threat to New Jersey from white supremacist groups is moderate because of their propensity for violence, diverse recruitment efforts, and the movement’s decentralization," the state's report says.
New Jersey's lowest threats
Al-Shabaab: Islamic extremist organization seeking to establish an austere version of Islam in Somalia.
Animal rights extremists
Boko Haram: Islamic extremists based in northern Nigeria. Tied to ISIS.
Environmental rights extremists
Hisballah: Islamic militant group and political party based in Lebanon and allied with Iran.
Lashkar-e-Tayyiba: Islamic organization that violently targets Indians in the Indian state of Kashmir.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan: Islamic group seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government and fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.