Homeland Security News Wire
Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis will host the Justice Department’s (DOJ) pilot program aimed at deterring Americans from joining terrorists groups, particularly those fighting in Syria and Iraq under the Islamic State (IS) and Somalia under al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab. The program will rely on prevention and intervention initiatives, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz said on Tuesday. Boston was chosen “for the strength of our existing relationships, community engagement and community oriented policing programs,” Ortiz added.
In recent months, ISIS has been recruiting members on social media sites, and the FBI has reported that a number of Americans have traveled to Syria to fight alongside ISIS in the Syrian Civil War. “It is no secret men and women from across the United States have traveled to Syria and other countries in support of terrorism, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not unlike any other state,” Vincent Lisi, the special agent in the charge of the FBI’s Boston office said in a statement Tuesday. “We will take every step possible to deal with such travelers.”
Lisi did make clear that the U.S. government has no evidence of an organized mechanism for radicalized Americans to travel to Syria or Iraq. Many travelers make their way to Syria or Iraq independently.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and local law enforcement units across the country have launched numerous initiatives to form better partnerships with Muslim and vulnerable immigrant communities. “The intent is to identify and confront radicalization and deter it at the earliest possible point,” Marc Raimondi, a DOJ spokesman said.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, is concerned that the pilot program will falsely target Muslim communities and create suspicion among members. “Our concerns are with counterterrorism policies and programs that incorrectly target entire communities based on religion, race and ethnic origin,” Shamsi said. “Encouraging communities to report to law enforcement when young people are engaged in religious activities, exploring faith, exploring their views on what exists in the world, raises significant concerns about targeting people not because they’ve done anything wrong, but putting them in the impossible position of proving they are not a threat.”
Former FBI agent and current ACLU staffer, Mike German, who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, is concerned that the government’s anti-radicalization initiatives may be ineffective. “It targets people who are critical of things like U.S. government policy,” German said. “That says nothing about whether someone is going to be committing unlawful activity.” He added, “this program is built on a false premise that these very bad things, acts of violence, terrorism, are somehow predictable. Mathematically, it’s just not so.”
Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said that while it is difficult for law enforcement to identify potential terrorists at home, the government should play a proactive role. “Our role at the local level is to do as much outreach as possible,” Davis said. “The better relations you have with a broad swath in the community, the better you are to prevent things.”
BY Corky Siemaszko, New York Daily News
They’re down to a dirty dozen.
The U.S. now believes there are only about 12 Americans currently fighting alongside Islamic fanatics in Syria — far less than the 100 officials have cited for months.
“When I use a number of more than 100, that means people who have gone and come back, people who have attempted to go and we locked them up, people who have gone and stayed,” FBI director James Comey explained during a recent interview with reporters at FBI headquarters.
That number also includes Americans who have been killed, Comey said.
“The figure that I’ve been operating with is, ballparkish, a dozen still there fighting with terrorist groups,” he said.
Comey did not identify any of the homegrown jihadists, but he said the FBI knows who they are — and that they are keeping tabs on them.
The head G-man’s remarks came just days after an Obama Administration official — citing a National Counterterrorism Center estimate — said more than 100 Americans enlisted in the Islamic State or with the al-Nusra Front, which claims ties to Al Qaeda.
Earlier, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), who heads the House Homeland Security Committee also used the 100 figure.
So did Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“It’s estimated that at least 2,000 fighters hold Western passports and at least 100 are U.S. citizens,” Inhofe told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a hearing.
Hagel did not disagree.
Back in June, NYPD terror chief John Miller warned that more than 100 young homegrown American Muslims were in the ranks of ISIS – and the Big Apple would be in their sights.
But the actual number is a “big unknown,” Derek Harvey, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who advises the Pentagon’s Central Command, told the Associated Press.
“The (FBI) director is talking about information that they have that is solid,” Harvey said. “But there’s a lot of unknowns, and I think that’s why there’s a lot of concern.”
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