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Homeland Security team to focus on U.S. terrorists

USA Today | March 15, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department said Wednesday it has created a unit to combat the threat posed by "homegrown terrorists" — citizens or legal residents who plot attacks from inside the nation's borders.

"This phenomenon presents a real and serious challenge to our nation," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a Senate panel.

Chertoff emphasized that violent extremists "represent a small, fringe element within the American Muslim community" and that members of that community have been "outspoken in their opposition to terrorist violence." He noted that the last major attack by homegrown terrorists was the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

Homeland's Chief Intelligence Officer Charles Allen's new unit will address all forms of extremist activity but will focus mainly on the threat from radicalized Muslims. The group has met with officials in 18 cities from Albany, N.Y., to Sacramento to get a handle on the problem. Allen said members have found that:

•Radicalization is a growing problem in prisons and at universities. Impressionable students are particularly susceptible to charismatic leaders aiming to "instill a brand of extreme ideology."

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•There are groups in the USA that serve as "gateways" for radicalization.

•Extremists "manipulate social situations to create perceptions of victimization" and then provoke police or political responses that can be used as propaganda.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Europe has a bigger problem with homegrown terrorists. The London and Madrid train bombings were carried out by citizens or longtime residents.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top Republican on the committee, said the government's efforts to secure the nation's borders and screen airline passengers help keep out foreign terrorists but don't protect against the rise of terrorist cells.

Chertoff said some Muslim groups are working with his office to combat radicalization. Jenn Kauffman of the Arab American Institute said her group looks forward to working with Homeland Security.

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the USA does not have the extremism seen in Muslim communities elsewhere.

"It's the Muslim community's role to eliminate violent extremism, which is what it is doing," he said.



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