THE US was slow to take seriously the threat posed by homegrown radicals and the government has failed to put systems in place to deal with the growing phenomenon, according to a report compiled by the former heads of the 9/11 commission.
The report says US authorities failed to realise that Somali-American youths travelling from Minnesota to Mogadishu in 2008 to join extremists was not an isolated issue. Instead, it was among several instances of a broader, more diverse threat that has surfaced across the country.
“Our long-held belief that homegrown terrorism couldn’t happen here has thus created a situation where we are today stumbling blindly through the legal, operational and organisational minefield of countering terrorist radicalisation and recruitment occurring in the United States,” it said.
As a result, there was still no federal agency specifically charged with identifying radicalisation or working to prevent terrorist recruitment of US citizens and residents, said the report, released yesterday by the Washington- based Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group.
The group, headed by former 9/11 commission leaders Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, laid out a detailed description of domestic terror incidents ranging from the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting spree and the attempted Christmas Day airliner attack in 2009, to the botched truck bombing in New York’s Times Square last May.
Over the past year, terrorism experts and government officials have warned of the threat posed by homegrown radicals, saying terror recruits who go abroad could return to the US to carry out attacks.
But the group said the US should have learned earlier from Britain’s experience. Before the 2005 London suicide bombings, the British believed that Muslims there were better integrated, educated and wealthier than their counterparts elsewhere. Similarly, the US believed that its melting pot of nationalities and religions would protect it from internal radical strife, the report said.
Terrorists may have discovered America’s “Achilles heel in that we currently have no strategy to counter the type of threat posed by homegrown terrorists and other radicalised recruits”.
However, this year the White House added combating homegrown terrorism to its national security strategy for the first time. Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security adviser, said the plan included a “new interagency effort that brings together key stakeholders” and continued “outreach to communities across the country”.
The FBI, meanwhile, has worked to reach out to Somali communities in an effort to counter radicalisation of the young.
The report also points to an “Americanisation” of the leadership of al-Qaida and its allied groups, noting that the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had links with suspects in the failed Times Square bombing and the Fort Hood shootings, grew up in New Mexico.
David Headley, who lived in Chicago, played a role in scoping the targets for the Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks on Mumbai in 2008 that killed more than 160.
Outside the US, al-Qaida, its affiliates and other extremist groups have splintered and spread, seeking safe havens in undergoverned areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and places in north and east Africa.
That diversified threat has intensified as militants reach out to potential recruits through the internet.
The report warns that it is no longer wise to believe that American extremists will not resort to suicide bombings.
It points to Nidal Hasan, an army major who has been charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 in last year’s shootings at Fort Hood, saying he had written about suicide operations in emails and that his attack appeared to be one.
SACRED TEXT: Desecrating a Koran is seen as a grave, punishable act
INTENTIONALLY burning the Koran, as a Florida preacher has threatened to do, is seen by Muslims as a blasphemous and insulting act because they consider the Islamic holy book to be the literal word of God.
Actual or alleged Koran desecration often sparks protests in the Muslim world and puzzled reactions from non-Muslims because of varying approaches to scripture and the sense of the sacred.
Some facts about the Koran:
- Muslims believe the Koran is the word of God transmitted to Mohammad by the Angel Gabriel in Arabic. By contrast, Jews and Christians believe their scriptures were written by holy humans with divine inspiration. For Muslims, this perceived enhanced sacredness makes Koran desecration especially heinous.
- Only the Arabic text is authentic and translations are seen as imperfect versions of the original, whose poetic wording is sometimes difficult to understand even for Arabic speakers. By contrast, Christians usually read the Bible in translation and few consult the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts.
- Muslims treat a printed Koran with great reverence. In Muslim tradition, the believer should be in a state of ritual purity before touching it. The Koran should not be put on the floor and nothing should be placed on top of it.
- Desecrating a Koran is seen as a grave offence worthy of severe punishment. Pakistani law prescribes life imprisonment for anyone “who willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose.”
- Muslim scholars usually avoid critical analysis of the Koran’s origins that questions whether it is the literal word of God. A scholar who argues that it drew on earlier texts in Aramaic publishes under a pseudonym to avoid reprisals.
- Memorising Koran passages is encouraged and learning the whole text by heart is highly prestigious. There are traditional rules for public reading of the Koran, which literally means “recitation.”
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