The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is hoping his panel’s hearing on the radicalization of Muslim-Americans within the U.S. military will reveal how the armed services can better protect itself against homegrown attacks.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) is holding a joint hearing on Wednesday, along with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), as the next stage in his series of efforts to address the radicalization of American Muslims.
Pointing to the 2009 shootings at the Fort Hood military base in Texas and at a military recruiting station in Arkansas, which killed a total of 14 people and wounded more than two dozen, King said the issue of radicalization within military communities is one that is grossly under the radar.
“There is an attempt by Islamists to join the military and infiltrate the military, and it’s more of a threat than the average American is aware of right now,” said King in an interview with The Hill on Monday.
Lieberman said his committee has held 13 hearings over the past five years on the issue of violent Islamic extremism and, based on what he has learned, the military is an increasingly large target for attacks.
“Clearly, the threat of homegrown terrorism has increased dramatically, and clearly, members of the armed services are a high-value target,” Lieberman said in a statement.
The issue was brought to the front burner for King after it was raised by Paul Stockton, the assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs. King said he feels the Obama administration is just as concerned with the issue as he is, and hopes to develop a working partnership to address some of the inadequacies that will come up at Wednesday’s hearing.
“I think more can be done,” he said. “But this is not going to be any attempt to bash the administration, necessarily. From my perspective it’s going to be a productive hearing and it’s not going to turn into a partisan fight.”
King gave several examples of issues that need more attention, such as whether the military needs to provide more security for recruiting centers and bases in the U.S. or whether local and state law enforcement should play a larger role in coordinating security with the military.
He said he also hopes to address the minutiae of radicalization on military bases. He used an example of how he has heard of at least one instance in which a copy of the radical Islamic magazine Inspire — which has been used as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups — was found in a barracks and allowed to remain. But Confederate flags are rightfully banned, he said.
“I’m using that as an example about whether or not we need to be more aggressive in facing up to the reality. It’s Islamic terrorism. It’s not just a nondescript, anonymous type of terrorism.”
King has held three hearings so far this year on the issue of radicalization of Muslim-Americans within the U.S. The first one drew the most scrutiny, as nearly 100 members of Congress asked him to cancel it or widen the breadth of the radicalized groups he was probing. King lauded the hearing as a success, saying that it brought attention to a taboo subject that is a serious and growing security concern.
The other two hearings focused on the terrorist group al-Shabbab’s influence within the U.S., and the radicalization of Muslim-Americans within U.S. prisons.
Carlos Bledsoe is serving life in prison for waging a shooting spree in 2009 at an Arkansas military recruiting center that killed Army Pvt. William Long.
Bledsoe’s father — who testified before King at a previous hearing, saying that his son was influenced by radicalized Muslim ideals — is planning to be at Wednesday’s hearing, where the slain soldier’s father, Daris Long, is slated to testify. King said each knows the other will be at the hearing and that Bledsoe is attending to show his support for Long.
Also expected to testify are Jim Stuteville, an Army senior adviser for counterintelligence operations and liaison to the FBI, and Lt. Col. Reid Sawyer, the director of Combating Terrorism Center at the West Point military academy.
King is planning to unveil a committee report on the issue at Wednesday’s hearing and another joint report with the Senate panel afterward.
He said his next hearing will likely be next year and focus on the use of certain mosques by al Qaeda and Iran in their efforts to radicalize people within the U.S.