Jihad an Equal Opportunity Employer
Jihad an Equal Opportunity Employer

by Russ Wellen

It's becoming increasingly difficult to 'profile' Islamic extremists in the United States.

Islamist extremists come in all shapes and sizes: middle-class, poor, happy, sad.

"Could Mateen have been caught?" asks Michael Hirsch in Politico magazine of the Orlando mass shooting. "It's unfair to expect that U.S. law enforcement can track and stop every would-be terrorist," he writes.

But perhaps the toughest thing to explain about the worst mass shooting in U.S. history is how a man who was interviewed three times by the FBI ended up buying, unnoticed, an entire arsenal and then gunning down, unsurveilled, more than 100 people. He'd been on the FBI's radar because he attended the same Florida mosque as a suicide bomber named Moner Abusalha, who had gone to Syria to blow up Syrian government soldiers in 2014, but Comey said [there were] no known "connections."

... Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University's Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, says it's "in the FBI's DNA" to pursue such criminal links to terrorist groups and build a case in the way law enforcement traditionally does. ... "There's an overemphasis on operational links."

Hirsch concludes that "Mateen's attack, and the FBI's failure to track him [suggests] that the terror threat appears to be evolving more quickly than U.S. authorities can keep up with it."

In another article in Politico magazine, by Vidino himself, he points out that Americans suffer from a number of misconceptions about jihadism in the United States. Among those are that radicalization occurs over the Internet and that a successful integration into the American economy keeps Middle-Eastern immigrants from becoming jihadists.

Vidino also explains that Americans don't understand the extent to which the FBI's hands are tied.

The big question for the FBI is what to do with the people in limbo, in the pre-criminal space. What do you do with a guy that you know is radicalized but has not committed any crime?

The first answer -- replete with civil liberties violations -- is sting operations. Vidino writes:

The FBI doesn't do this to just anyone -- it targets people it thinks are eventually going to move into violence. The theory is that if violence is going to happen anyway, the FBI might as well be the ones controlling it. It's like a controlled explosion.

The second answer:

You try to deradicalize the extremist by sending a mentor, an imam, a relative, or a former radical to convince him that his line of thinking is flawed, that his theological interpretations are flawed, that there are repercussions to what he's doing. It works in some cases; it doesn't work in many others.

I have only skimmed the surface of both these articles; I urge you to read them.

Courtesy Foreign Policy in Focus.

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