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Our country has responded well thus far in the face of the unspeakable horror recently unleashed when two brothers set off improvised explosive devices at the Boston Marathon. We saw a massive mobilization by the U.S. government in support of law enforcement efforts to first identify and then neutralize the suspects involved. Now that the immediate public safety threat has receded, two sets of after action public assessments have begun.
The first public assessment involves scrutinizing the government entities charged with protecting us. So the intelligence community and federal law enforcement agencies, such as FBI-Boston, are rightly being evaluated to see what information they might have not shared or assessed properly in their mission to connect the dots. Having sat through classified briefings the last time such a massive review occurred, in the aftermath of the 2009 Detroit underwear bombing attempt, I have no doubt that shortcomings identified by U.S. government agencies in regards to the Boston attack will be remedied.
As Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress recently, “We will learn lessons from this [Boston] attack, just as we have from past instances of terrorism and violent extremism” . . . “We will apply those; we will emerge even stronger.”
The second public assessment, if the suspect is indeed Muslim, involves scrutinizing the American Muslim community to try and see if the violent radicalization pathway the suspects traveled carries collective community responsibility. Some Americans wrongly perceive the mosque-based Muslim community as “radical” and “subversive” to our homeland security.
Perhaps no American politician has labored so extensively, after each Muslim terrorist incident attempted, to assign collective community responsibility for the actions of individuals then New York’s Republican Congressman Peter King. On NBC’s Meet the Press this pass Sunday, Rep. King stood by his earlier remarks to the National Review stating that “police” must “build up as many sources as they can, and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community.”
In my career I have provided what the FBI termed “extraordinary contributions to specific cases in support of the FBI’s counterterrorism mission,” as well as “been a consensus builder between the national Islamic community and the numerous agencies dedicated to the prevention of terrorism.” I have also provided radicalization interdiction trainings to hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement executive as well as multiple states’ Joint-Terrorism Taskforces (JTTF).
In addition, while serving as the terrorism expert consultant for the Federal Public Defenders office in the Daniel Patrick Boyd case, I had to retrace Boyd’s radicalization journey which began 20 years prior in Boston with a radicalizer encouraging him to travel overseas and join the militant jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
When I testified before the current House Homeland Security subcommittee on Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence chaired by Rep. King in March 2010 on “Working with Communities to Disrupt Terror Plots,” I specifically warned that solutions like Rep. King’s counter-productively “securitize the relationship” between communities and law enforcement by presenting communities with only two avenues, either as suspects or sources to report on suspects.
I have no interest in publicly criticizing the NYPD counter-radicalization model that Rep. King advocates, but I do believe that they need to modify their current model with a community-based off ramp for homegrown radicalized youth.
After decades fighting gangs in communities and blanketing minority communities with excessive surveillance activity, police eventually pioneered model community-based early intervention partnerships between communities and law enforcement to interdict and deter vulnerable youth from recruitment into violent gangs.
This experience by American police provided constructive lessons on how to counter homegrown violent extremism.
After facilitating more than 100 events of cooperation across our country between Muslim community members and the FBI in homegrown terrorism investigations, it is clear to me today that radicalization is an individual or small group phenomenon that sometimes requires a community-based solution but is never a community-level problem.
The world admires many things about us as Americans, not least of which is our resilient ability to bounce back stronger with each unfortunate crisis. Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick said at the interfaith event following the Boston Marathon attack that “Massachusetts invented America.” Well in America’s nearly quarter-millennium history, it would benefit us to remember that no adversary has ever won by betting against the United States of America as we resiliently remain united.
Mohamed Elibiary is a homegrown terrorism expert advising the homeland security enterprise, and has served as a guest lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security the past three years. Mohamed can be reached @MohamedElibiary