A Mixed Picture on Domestic Radicalization?

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Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 8:50 am

The arrest in Pakistan of five northern Virginia young men at a safe house belonging to the anti-India terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed underscores fears of domestic U.S. radicalization that have swelled in recent weeks. From Najibullah Zazi to the Minnesotans arrested for aiding Somali terror group al-Shebaab to Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal Malik Hasan to the Chicagoan linked to last year’s Mumbai terror attacks, evidence is compiling that even as al-Qaeda grows increasingly pressured, extremist groups — some with regional focuses and a few with international reach — are making inroads with American Muslim communities that have shown themselves to be resistant to extremist calls over the past decade. No wonder, perhaps, that members of the Obama administration — from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to State Department counterterrorism chief Dan Benjamin — have sounded the alarm on both domestic radicalization and terrorist infiltration over the past week.

Still, a closer look at the new Pakistani arrests still show signs of the durability of American Muslim resistance to radicalization. The arrests wouldn’t have happened, for instance, if a much-maligned American Muslim organization hadn’t put the accused’s worried families in touch with the government:

The men, who range in age from 19 to 25, went overseas without telling their families, who grew concerned after a family member called one of them on his cellphone and “the conversation ended abruptly,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The council got the family members in touch with the FBI last week, and the families played the 11-minute English video [that seemed like a martyrdom tape] for agents and Muslim leaders at a lawyer’s office.

This would be the same CAIR that was recently slandered by four members of Congress, citing a book published by the conservative conspiracy theory Website WorldNetDaily, for the heinous crime of trying to help put American Muslim interns in government offices, which the four considered — without evidence — to be an “infiltration” attempt. Some extremist group. But the more important point is that a leading American Muslim organization, faced with credible fears of U.S. involvement in terrorism, promptly contacted law enforcement. Nor does Awad sound like a denialist in a broader sense:

“We, as a community, recognize that we have a problem,” said Awad, who added that he hoped the case would not be “cited by the cottage industry of Muslim bashers.”

Good luck with that. There may also be something indicative about the capabilities of groups that seek to employ U.S. Muslims as cell participants: with the apparent exception of the Mumbai attack, all of these terrorist groups had their work foiled by law enforcement and intelligence work before any attack came to fruition.

Follow Spencer Ackerman on Twitter


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