NBC10 Investigators: Homegrown Terrorism in Pa. and NJ

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Ronald Archer remembers his grandson Edward as a good kid, a sports fan, living in West Philadelphia.

Eddie, as he was known, grew up in a Baptist family.  He had a high school sweetheart and seemed like an all-American kid.

But his grandfather says something changed when Eddie convert to Islam.

`The older Archer tells us he told his grandson, “If that’s what you want to be, a Muslim, I support you. But as far as getting way, way deep into where you want to do things like, bomb things and kill people, I don’t understand that.”

But police say on January 7, 2016 Eddie Archer walked up to Philadelphia Police Officer Jesse Hartnett’s police cruiser and fired shots. Hartnett was hit multiple times but was able to give chase. Archer was arrested one block away. Authorities say he did it in the name of ISIS.

Archer is one of six cases of accused homegrown terrorism in Pennsylvania and South Jersey. While these cases may look isolated, experts say they may be virtually connected.

NBC10 Investigators: Tracking Homegrown Jihadists Part 2NBC10 Investigators: Tracking Homegrown Jihadists Part 2

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens with George Washington University’s program on extremism mapped a network of home-grown terror suspects and the ISIS recruiters they had contacted. He called them “virtual entrepreneurs.”

They radicalized them through online propaganda, accessible on any computer or phone in any American home.

These include Philly-born Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem. He is accused of providing weapons for terrorists in a Texas attack. Kareem is serving 30-years in prison.

Another is Harrisburg-native Jalil Aziz, who allegedly helped would-be terrorists travel overseas to join ISIS. Aziz pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

NBC10 Investigators: Tracking Homegrown Jihadists Part 3NBC10 Investigators: Tracking Homegrown Jihadists Part 3

Both men, according to Meleagrou-Hitchens, have connections to the same “virtual entrepreneur” in Syria.

“Aziz was in touch via twitter,” Meleagrou-Hitchens said.

Keonna Thomas, the so-called “young lioness” from North Philadelphia was plugged in too.  Thomas was communicating with a top ISIS “virtual entrepreneur” before making plans to leave her children and fight with ISIS.  She was arrested and charged before she could leave the United States.  Thomas pleaded guilty and will be sentenced this month.  
The ISIS recruits in a virtual network, usually encrypted, working across our physical borders to target Americans who feel marginalized.

“They are not happy about their lives – and this ideology is offering them explanations. It’s offering them a diagnosis for their problems,” Meleagrou-Hitchens said.
When Ronald Archer thinks of his grandson, he remembers him being “bright, smart. Nothing like he got into like that.”

He said aside from his grandson’s religious fervor, no behavior or friendships seemed unusual.
But since the January 2016 attack, he’s acknowledged there may be more he never knew.
“Well, I wouldn’t believe it,” Archer said. “But if he did that, I wouldn’t know what to believe about him.”

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