U.S. Lacks Effective System to Find Homegrown Terrorists

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On his way to planting an explosive in a New York City alley last September, suspected bombmaker Ahmad Rahimi stumbled into a deep hole in the U.S. system of safeguards against domestic terrorist attacks, reports the Washington Post. The Elizabeth, N.J., resident had twice come under scrutiny by the FBI because of reported extremist views and suspicious travel overseas. Investigators found no grounds for arresting him, and they lacked alternative measures for maintaining surveillance or influencing the ­Afghan immigrant’s behavior. That gap is the subject of a new report that warns of a serious flaw in U.S. defenses against homegrown terrorism: the lack of an effective system for finding, redirecting and rehabilitating Americans who may be on a path to violent extremism. Unless such a system is put in place, the report says, law enforcement officials will be left to try to prevent attacks only after the would-be terrorist becomes operational.

The report is based on a year-long study commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. The report urges federal backing for an array of programs that would seek to prevent radicalization from taking root in local communities, as well as measures to identify and help people already on a path toward radicalism. The proposed remedies would mostly take place outside the criminal justice system while maintaining a strong “connective tissue” with law enforcement so that police can be forewarned if someone appears on the brink of committing violence, it says. The study’s release comes as the Trump administration is conducting a formal review of federal programs that focus on countering violent extremism (CVE). Current efforts have drawn criticism from lawmakers as well as some senior Trump aides. Matthew Levitt, a former FBI counterterrorism analyst and a co-author of the study, said past U.S. administrations have been slow to embrace community-based approaches that some politicians see as “soft.” The resulting absence of comprehensive strategy has allowed dangerous people to slip under the radar screen, he said.

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