WASHINGTON - The FBI and Homeland Security are telling law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for Americans who've trained or fought for extremists overseas and may now be back in the U.S. recruiting followers for violence.
Authorities are searching for one such man after arresting seven of his colleagues in North Carolina, including alleged ringleader Daniel Patrick Boyd.
Boyd fought the Soviets in Afghanistan decades ago and now stands accused of preparing a group of Islamic converts in the North Carolina countryside to kidnap, kill and maim people overseas.
Anti-terrorism officials say homegrown terrorists are training and recruiting in rural areas of the United States.
"They might be softer targets for people to recruit because it's less law enforcement. There's less coverage, and you can maybe operate longer below the radar," Former FBI Agent Brad Garrett said Tuesday.
Just two years ago, Israel detained Boyd and one of his sons and refused them entry to the Jewish nation.
"This cell was apparently after Jewish targets. Daniel Patrick Boyd and his son had traveled to Israel back in 2007 with plans for an attack," Garrett said. "They didn't succeed. They came back here. Who knows what they planned to do here on U.S. soil."
Boyd's wife denies anyone in her family is a terrorist and spoke out through a statement read by a friend in the Muslim American Society.
"We are decent people who care about other human beings. Just because something is said in the media does not make it so," Khalilah Sabra, with the MAS, read.
"I have raised my sons to be good people and we are a good family. Indictments always seem factual in their appearance. But to rush to judgment is not a part of the process," the friend read.
Neighbors were stunned by the arrests.
"Our kids play with their kids," neighbor Heather Roegner said. "Their kids are always out in the neighborhood playing with all the other neighborhood kids."
One of Boyd's sons and another suspect attended North Carolina State University.
"It's kind of scary," Brandy Yarborough, fellow NCSU student, said.
"It's really an eye opener when you see that it's right here first hand at the school that you're going to," student John Wheeler said.
Authorities say the suspects were "prepared to become mujihadeen and die as martyrs."
The concern is groups like al Qaeda are succeeding with their efforts to recruit young white Americans, the last people many would suspect of being Islamic terrorists.