WASHINGTON – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday continued its investigation into the threat of Islamic radicalization inside the United States and the initiatives the U.S. government is taking to identify and combat homegrown terrorism.
Both Lieberman and Collins cited the terrorist attacks in Europe as a reason to be vigilant about radicalization and the development of terrorist cells inside the United States. In both the London and Madrid transit and rail bombings, the attacks were carried out by citizens or long-time residents of the UK and Spain, respectively. Today’s witnesses, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, testified that, while “homegrown terrorism” presents a real and serious challenge, the U.S. is fortunate that radicalization seems to have less appeal here than in other parts of the world.
“This domestic threat to our safety will require a strong, comprehensive, and creative strategy of homeland security,” Lieberman said. “Countering ‘homegrown’ radicalization must be one of the Department of Homeland Security’s top priorities. This will be an important, complex, and at times, difficult conversation. But we must have this conversation and then act sensibly on it if we are to preserve our security and our freedom.”
Collins said: “For the past five years, the federal government has attempted to prevent terrorists from entering our country from abroad. Our homeland security efforts have made it increasingly difficult for foreign terrorist to infiltrate and operate in the United States. Increased border security and screening of overseas airline passengers, while critical to help keep out foreign terrorists, do not, however, protect us from ‘homegrown’ terrorists. The rise of domestic terrorist cells inspired by but not directly linked to Al Qaeda is an emerging threat to our nation’s security. We must combine vital and vigorous counter-measures against terrorism with the kind of engagement that can help deprive terrorists of their tools of fear and hatred.”
The hearing follows a report from Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Advisory Council about the future of terrorism and its impact on the United States. According to Lieberman, the report called radical Islam “the most significant terrorist threat to the homeland today, said that it is spreading, and predicted that the number and magnitude of attacks on the United States will increase.”
Today’s hearing examined the Department’s work in assessing and confronting this threat and in developing ways to prevent radical beliefs from crossing the line into violent acts of terrorism. Most recently, DHS launched an initiative to reach out to state and local fusion centers to address radicalization. Intelligence and law enforcement personnel meet at these centers to discuss and analyze what is taking place in their communities. The Committee also probed DHS’s efforts to promote civic participation among Muslim communities to prevent feelings of isolation and alienation.
“American society has welcomed Muslims, just as it has embraced generations of immigrants of other ethnicities before,” Lieberman said. “There appears to be a greater level of assimilation of Muslins into American society than in many other countries.”
Witnesses at the hearing in addition to Secretary Chertoff were Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Charlie Allen, and Daniel Sutherland, head of DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
A similar hearing was held in September 2006 on Islamic radicalization in U.S. prisons. The Committee plans to continue its examination of homegrown Islamic radicalization in hearings scheduled throughout the spring.