WASHINGTON -- The deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai are raising many questions about the safety of Americans here and abroad.
It is clear that al Qaeda and its allies are still plotting against the U.S. and other democratic nations. And they're turning to some fresh recruits to help make it happen.
The overwhelming majority of Islamic terrorist attacks over the past 30 years have been carried out by young men of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, leading Western authorities to pay closer attention to these particular groups while assessing possible terrorists. Al Qaeda and other terror groups are well aware of this profile and are looking to adapt.
Among their newer tactics is the use of women and even the mentally handicapped as suicide bombers. But the most common untraditional jihadist to emerge is the white convert to radical Islam. At first glance, these pale-skinned jihadists of European descent can pass for the average small town guy-next-door. And that's exactly the point.
Click play to watch CBN News Terror Analyst Erick Stakelbeck's report.
Intelligence experts see this as an emerging trend: white converts being transformed into soldiers of jihad--and working to destroy a country from within.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a terrorism analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.
"Having operatives from the societies you are trying to strike is extremely beneficial," he said.
"They're much less prone to being caught and being disrupted," Gartenstein-Ross explained. "And I do think we'll see more of an attempt to use them."
Gartenstein-Ross has studied homegrown Islamic terrorism closely.
"Even though most Western governments have the position that they don't profile, al Qaeda doesn't believe that," he said.
"They want people who have passports, who have Western passports, who understand Western society, and therefore have a much easier job of blending in and going wherever they need to go to carry out their mission."
Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, Romania, Russia and Australia have all seen white converts convicted in recent years for their involvement in major terrorist plots. For example, the 2006 plot to blow up 10 transatlantic airliners traveling from Britain to the U.S. involved two white British converts.
In 2007, a major plot to strike Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany involved white German converts. Perhaps most disturbingly, the U.S. military stepped up its drone missile strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan earlier this year after seeing white jihadists at terrorist training camps there. The fear was that the men would return to the West and carry out attacks inside the United States prior to the November presidential election.
Americans first learned of this phenomenon in 2001, when California native John Walker Lindh -- a former Catholic -- was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He had been fighting alongside the Taliban after training with al Qaeda. But there is one white convert who's even more notorious then Lindh -- and he is still on the run.
He's known in the radical Islamic world as "Azzam the American." But the fiery al Qaeda propagandist, who has threatened America repeatedly in recent years, once went by the name Adam Gadahn. Raised on a California goat farm by a Jewish grandfather, Gadahn discovered Islam on the Internet at the age 16. He soon fell under the sway of extremists and made his way to Pakistan. The rest is al Qaeda history.
"Gadahn's emergence is absolutely strategic on al Qaeda's part," Gartenstein-Ross explained.
"There's a propaganda victory in saying 'We have someone on our side who was previously one of you.' Someone who is not only American but also white, and has Jewish blood," he continued.
Why would young Westerners like Lindh and Gadahn, who live in free societies, be attracted to an ideology that seeks to destroy democracy and establish Islamic law worldwide?
The reasons vary. Majid Nawaz had what he calls a typical liberal British upbringing. But he says after racist attacks in his neighborhood and bad experiences with religion, he became angry and disillusioned. As a teenager, he met a member of Hizb-ut Tahrir, or HT-- a radical Islamist group banned in several countries.
"He was articulate. He was able to understand my problems, to relate to me -- he spoke my language," Nawaz told CBN News. "And he was able to provide to me the black and white answers that a young teenage mind that was very angry found appealing."
Nawaz became a leader of HT, traveling abroad to spread the group's message of Islamic domination. After serving four years in an Egyptian prison for his HT activities, Nawaz left the group. He now heads the Quilliam Foundation in London, where he speaks out against what he calls 'Islamism.'
Nawaz warns that Islamic terrorists come in many shades.
"Just as there are black Christians in Africa or black Muslims in Africa, there are also white Muslims in Europe," he said.
"Bosnia being a perfect example, but also the CIS Republic that broke away from Russia -- Chechnya. These are European Muslims, and they're white," Nawaz said.
He says Western officials should remember that Islam is a religion, not a particular ethnicity.
"When our government profiled and said look for a certain type of person, then al Qaeda responded to that profile, laughing," Nawaz said.
"And said, 'OK, if they're looking for a man of Middle Eastern appearance who happens to be between 20 and 30, then we will start recruiting from the ample amount of white Muslims that exist,'" he responded.
Some white converts, like Gadahn, have risen to prominence in Islamic terror groups. In Somalia this year, a white man calling himself "Abu Mansoor al Amriki" released a communique calling for jihad in the Horn of Africa.
But at the end of the day, these white jihadis can face drawbacks.
"There will be skepticism for a lot of them, because of fears that they'll be spies," Gartenstein-Ross said.
"Or that they won't genuinely be part of the al Qaeda ranks. There are also other barriers: those who aren't proficient in Arabic will be looked to as deficient in that regard," he said. "And certainly, none of them will be looked to, for the most part, as Islamic scholars."
Analysts say that with white converts able to move freely between Europe and the United States and not draw attention, they are likely play a larger role in future al Qaeda plots. It's all meant to keep al Qaeda and its supporters one step ahead of the West's counter-terrorism efforts.