Homeland Security panel examines radicalization of U.S. Muslims

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee grilled homeland security and counterterrorism officials Wednesday about the role that Muslims play in the country’s fight against terrorism. 

Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) has received a large amount of criticism for calling a hearing next month to examine al Qaeda’s efforts to radicalize Muslims in the U.S. King also wants to examine the role American Muslims play in assisting law enforcement and counter-terrorism experts in fighting terrorism.

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But the panel’s ranking Democrat Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has asked King to expand his probe to look at other extremist groups who have participated in acts of terror in the past, such as neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, and anti-government groups.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers on Wednesday that Thompson was correct in identifying other extremist groups as potential threats to the U.S., but that it’s difficult to say which radical factions pose more of a risk than others.

“I don’t have a score card,” said Napolitano at a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee. “The plain fact of the matter is that from a law enforcement [and] terrorism-prevention perspective we have to prepare law enforcement and communities for both types of acts.

“Some of those are inspired by Islamist groups, Al Qaeda and so forth. Others can be inspired by anti-government groups – flying a plane into an IRS building for example…I would say Representative Thompson that we see a variety of different types of motivations in addition to the Islamist motivation that we’re here talking about right now.”

Civil rights and American-Muslim groups have criticized King for holding the hearings only on the role that Muslims play, saying that it could create a backlash of bias against the Muslim-American community.

King said in a letter to Thompson on Tuesday that he would not allow political correctness” to prevent him from holding a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims.

The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, said on Wednesday that the Muslim-American community has been instrumental in assisting law enforcement agencies with terrorism cases. 

“Many of our tips to uncover active terrorist plots here in the United States have come from the Muslim community, so we have to make quite clear that communities are part of the solution and not part of the problem and we do that through using a variety of tools” said Leiter.

Leiter added that the proportion of American Muslims who are involved in extremism is “absolutely tiny.”

“If you look at the numbers, they are significant in terms of the attacks we have, but in terms of the broader Muslim community throughout the United States, it is a minute percentage of that population,” he said.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said he wanted to see the Department of Homeland Security profile Muslims at airports. Broun said he recently went through screening at an airport and had a man behind him that was of “Arabian, or Middle Eastern decent.” Neither the man nor Broun were patted down, he said.

But behind the man was an elderly woman with a small child, and both of them were patted down, Broun said.

“I have yet to see a grandma try to bomb any U.S. facility with chemicals in her bloomers so I think we need to focus on those who want to do us harm,” he said.

“This administration and your department seems to be very adverse to focusing on those entities that want to do us harm,” said Broun. “And the people who want to harm us are not grandmas and it’s not little children. It’s the Islamic extremists.

“There are others and I want to look into those too,” he said. “I encourage you to maybe take a step back and see how we can focus on those people who want to harm us. And we’ve got to profile these fellas. Y’all have not been willing to do so in my opinion. And I hope that you will look at this issue because I think it’s absolutely critical to the safety of our nation.”

Napolitano responded that Broun’s was a “common complaint” but that the DHS has a system in place that works on the premise of random searches.

“It has to be truly random,” she said. “Otherwise you lose the value of unpredictability.”

“When we set firm rules about [how] we won’t screen this kind of person, or that kind of person, [then] our adversaries know those rules, and they attempt to train and get around them.”