Area Muslims, police talk terror prevention


Nearly half – 42 percent – of al-Qaida plots in the United States have ties to Maryland or Delaware,
according to Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of The World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) and founder of the International Cultural Center.

Mirahmadi joined Montgomery County Police Department officers on Oct. 8 at the International Community Center in Montgomery Village to discuss the potential for homegrown terrorists from Montgomery County and how to stop them.

Part education seminar, part question-answer session and discussion, the event, “Understanding the ISIS Threat to the Homeland,” focused on specific examples of radicalized American citizens in an effort to help audience members detect and possibly intervene when they see a young person exhibiting radical tendencies.

At the event, Montgomery County Police Department Chief J. Thomas Manger discussed how his department is working to prevent radicalization in the county.

“…[W]e have experience here in Montgomery County dealing with people who have been radicalized and have taken their political, personal motivations and translated it into violence and crime,” Manger said, recalling the two of Montgomery County’s worst crimes – the Beltway snipers in 2002 and a hostage-taking suicide bomber in Silver Spring in 2010.

In both cases, American citizens were the perpetrators, said the chief, and the greatest threat to Montgomery County still remains homegrown terrorism. However, he added that the possibility of foreign-based terrorism exists because Washington, D.C., is an international terrorist target.
“So the reason why I think this effort is so valuable and so important is because if we’re successful, we’re going to prevent something from happening,” said Manger. “We’re going to intervene in someone’s life before they head down the path of violent extremism.”

Manger spoke about the regular meetings that he and police department officials in the county conduct with faith leaders who are part of the Montgomery County Executive’s Faith Community Working Group – which is co-chaired by Mirahmadi – as a key tool in helping the department monitor potential threats. This cooperation is nationally known as the “Montgomery County model,” and both Manger and Mirahmadi speak about their concept to audiences outside of the local area.

In November 2013, Manger and Mirahmadi were part of a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and moderated by Matthew Levitt, director of the Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

“We love talking to parents of young people, because so many young people – and I’m talking specifically about high school age kids – are at a stage in their life when they are susceptible to being radicalized,” the chief said. “They watch enough YouTube videos, go to enough websites, read enough information, that they could in fact be influenced by what they are reading.

“And you hope that whatever they latch on to is something that’s healthy and productive and heads them down the right road. But too often, it may not be.”

The State Department estimates that there are approximately 100 American citizens fighting for terrorist entities in Syria and Iraq who possess American passports. According to Mirahmadi, other sources estimate that there may be as many as 300.

The rest of the evening focused on discussing why radical organizations, like ISIS, appeal to young people. They also covered how adults can detect when someone they know, or even their own child, is being radicalized.

The audience, made up mostly of observant Muslims, with a few Christians and Jews, appeared genuinely concerned for their communities and passionate about stemming the influence of agents and online media that are leading at-risk children in their communities toward extremism, which, in the worst cases, lead to lives of violence and acts of terrorism.

Rabia Chaudry, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and WORDE senior fellow Mehreen Farooq, took turns presenting some of the techniques terrorist organizations are using to recruit

One culprit, according to the presentation, is the terrorist organizations’ mastery of new media – with vulnerable adolescents using social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and chat rooms to connect with active terrorists in real time. A power-point presentation at the event also focused on the professional-looking videos, sleek magazines and pictures posted on social networks of terrorists with cats and other pets that serve to humanize active terrorists to a pop culture-savvy American audience.

American youth, from moderate Islamic or nonobservant families, or converts, are drawn to these movements by the heroic ideals of fighting against the oppression of Muslims and the prospect of a renewed Islamic caliphate.

“You hear a lot these days about ISIS and their declaration to be a so-called ‘Islamic State’ and recreating the caliphate. Simply put, this is an attempt by violent extremists to recreate a single Muslim nation ruled by one leader – a concept which has not existed since the fall of the Ottoman Empire,” Mirahmadi said. “However unrealistic it may sound to us, such a concept is appealing to vulnerable individuals because it implies a return of lost glory, of renewed honor in the face of persecution, alienation, or/and significance lost.”

Canadian attorney Hussein Hamdani, a religious Muslim, joined the panel of experts and officials from Canada who came to speak about best practices in their country. Hamdani acted out a story of a young man named Yousef, a child of immigrants whose spiral toward extremism began with him becoming more religiously observant. He was influenced by a terrorist agent at a local mosque and was arrested before committing an act of terrorism. This profile of Yousef was assembled by splicing the most common elements learned by authorities from conversations with radicalized youth.

“What I found most fascinating in this program was the video that they showed where the [terrorists] took beautiful music and beautiful poetry, and they distorted it to make these people fall in love with violence,” said Daniel Spirit, a Jewish attendee and founder of the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue.

“Frankly, one of the things I’m hearing is that there are a lot of secular people – certainly a lot of secular people in our community, a lot of secular Muslims – when they come to their religion as adolescents and they have no religious role models from their families, then there’s a vacuum that can be filled by these extremist groups.”

[email protected] @dmitriyshapiro

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