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Experts Stress U.S. Still Does Not Have a Coherent Strategy to Fight Radicalization

06/23/2011 -

The federal government still does not have a coherent plan to counter the growing threat of violent Islamist radicalization inside the United States, a former 9-11 Commission co-chair and radicalization expert announced today.

“The federal government is doing a lot of things in terms of outreach, training people, and communication, but they are not properly coordinated,” said Peter Neumann, a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center and founding director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London. “There is no coherence. A lot of people who are involved in it are not on the same page.”

Neumann’s comments came during an event at theBipartisan Policy Center, where the think tank released his51-page report (.pdf) laying out guidance for developing such a coherent counterradicalization strategy.

Former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group (NSPG), a follow-on to the 9/11 Commission, stressed that the strategy is not calling for a Washington-centric approach to counterradicalization.

“While a counterradicalization effort requires the federal government to take the initiative and provide direction, state and local officials and leaders of community organizations have to play an absolutely essential role,” said Kean. He added that state and local officials and community leaders are uniquely positioned to counter the message of jihadist radicalization and steer at-risk individuals off of the terrorist path.

Kean said that al Qaeda and affiliated movements present a “more diverse and probably more complex” threat than core al Qaeda did ten years ago when it struck the United States. Because of effective security policies, especially border and immigration controls, the United States has made it harder for foreign-born operatives to enter the United States and mount attacks. Al Qaeda, however, has adapted to U.S. defenses, said Kean.

“They are trying to recruit us,” he said. One of the prime jihadist recruiters the panel identified was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric, who the federal government alleges is an operational asset of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen.

The panel, moderated by Wall Street Journal intelligence correspondent Siobhan Gorman, discussed how the federal government, in cooperation with state and local governments and community organizations, can fight back against terrorist recruitment and violent radicalization.

Neumann believes state and local governments, with the help of the Muslim-American community, can identify at-risk youths and prevent their radicalization, much like gang prevention programs in Los Angeles. “It’s about empowering communities,” he said.

Neumann added that non-Muslim Americans assume that all Muslim parents are familiar with jihadism. “They’re not,” he said. “The same way that I don’t know anything about white supremacism.”

According to Neumann, counterradicalization isn’t exclusively about the radicals. Rather much of it is about educating the people who touch the radicals’ lives--their parents, their friends, and their colleagues--so they're aware of the problem and can intervene when necessary. For example, he said Muslim parents need to be aware of what Web sites their children are visiting, because a lot of radicalization occurs online.

Kean observed that the radicalization process, on average, takes seven or eight years before an individual becomes violent. “We have time [to intervene],” he said.

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