Jan 25, 2016 · 4 min read

Terrorism made front-page headlines again in late 2015, due to events in Paris and San Bernardino, Cal. Both incidents were linked to extremists who pledged allegiance to ISIS, and proved just how difficult it is for counter-terrorist agencies to avert such threats in advance.

Directed by Greg Barker (HBO’s Emmy®-winning “Manhunt”) and based on the upcoming book “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists,” by Peter Bergen, HOMEGROWN: THE COUNTER-TERROR DILEMMA is a gripping insider’s account of the homegrown terrorist threat in America, told from the perspectives of those who helped construct our counter-terrorism machine — as well as those who are its targets. The timely film debuts MONDAY, FEB. 8 (9:00–10:30 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

Other HBO playdates: Feb. 8 (4:00 a.m.), 9 (10:50 a.m.), 11 (4:20 p.m.), 14 (10:20 a.m.), 16 (2:00 p.m.) and 20 (3:45 p.m.)

HBO2 playdates: Feb. 10 (8:30 p.m.), 13 (1:45 p.m.), 17 (9:30 a.m., 12:05 a.m.) and 21 (7:40 a.m.)

The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.

HOMEGROWN: THE COUNTER-TERROR DILEMMA explores the real and perceived threat of homegrown Islamic extremism through firsthand accounts from those on the front lines of this battle, including family members of convicted terrorists, those trying to dissuade young people from embracing extremism, Muslim Americans facing fear and suspicion in their communities, and victims of terrorist attacks. The documentary also features insights from counter-terrorism officials, experts and prosecutors who worked homegrown terrorist cases.

Among the questions the film raises: How big is the threat, and how effective have the efforts of U.S. counter-terrorism agencies been in combatting homegrown terrorism? What are the unintended consequences of these efforts? What freedoms and values are sacrificed in the effort to track down established and nascent extremists?

“Why is it that, ten years on, more than a decade after 9/11, American citizens are signing up for an Al Qaeda group or an Al Qaeda ideology?” asks Peter Bergen. “That is a big puzzle.” Top Justice Department officials face the daunting challenge of identifying would-be terrorists and preventing acts of terrorist violence on American soil, while respecting the constitutional rights and privacy of American citizens.

Andrew Liepman, former deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, explains, “[After 9/11] our job in counterterrorism wasn’t to minimize the likelihood of an attack — it was to eliminate the likelihood of an attack.”

Among the cases examined in HOMEGROWN: THE COUNTER-TERROR DILEMMA:

  • A young Muslim man living in the U.S. was targeted by U.S. authorities after attending an Islamic boarding school. After traveling to Washington, D.C. with a friend and filming what prosecutors called “casing” videos of the Pentagon and other sites, he was arrested and convicted of conspiracy, and is now serving 17 years in federal prison. His family finds it hard to reconcile the government’s view with their own memories of him. Philip Mudd, former deputy director of the FBI’s National Security Branch and an analyst on the case, notes, “I think he was considering an act of violence…we can’t afford to let people die.”
  • In 2009, U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. Thirteen were killed, and more than 30 wounded. Nidal’s cousin, Fairfax, Va. attorney Nader Hasan, speculates that Nidal, who feared the thought of combat, may have become unhinged upon learning he was about to be deployed. After identifying himself to the media as Hasan’s first cousin, Nader found himself to be considered “guilty by association,” and lost friends and clients. But he has little sympathy for Nidal, who “was suicidal and decided to use [religion as an excuse] to bring everybody down who identifies with being Muslim.” Nader formed a foundation to speak out against Islamic extremism, forming an unlikely friendship with Kerry Cahill, daughter of a Fort Hood victim. The two united to deliver presentations to schools and communities, spreading the message “No Violence in the Name of Islam. Ever.”
  • Chicago professor and Imam Omer Mozaffar knows firsthand the dangers of Muslim extremism. Though he admits he once considered joining the Taliban, he says he “could not rationalize killing innocent people,” or accept its interpretation of Islamic doctrine. Mozaffar, who now warns Muslim students about ISIS, recalls witnessing the “transformation” of Samir Khan, the Pakistani-American son of an Islamic friend, into an extremist. Khan founded Inspire, the first English-language jihadi magazine, and was killed in a drone strike after traveling to Yemen to meet Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born senior member of Al Qaeda, who was also killed in the strike. “Samir made a mistake,” laments Mozaffar, reflecting on his inability to sway Khan from a life of violence. “He was the one who got away.”

Crown Publishers will publish “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists,” by Peter Bergen, on Feb. 2.

HOMEGROWN is directed by Greg Barker; produced by John Battsek, Julie Goldman, Greg Barker; produced by Diane Becker. For HBO: senior producer, Nancy Abraham; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

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