WASHINGTON – The new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security is preparing a controversial investigation next month into what he calls a “very real threat” – the radicalization of young Muslims by local religious leaders.
Many officials have praised cooperation from Muslim religious leaders in the United States and blamed the growing number of young American Muslims willing to contemplate terrorism on radicals overseas reaching out through the Internet.
But Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., said he had heard an increasing number of stories from federal law enforcement officials that U.S. Islamic leaders have not cooperated with police or are fomenting young Muslims.
“There’s a systematic effort to radicalize young Muslim men,” King said. “It would be irresponsible of me not to have this investigation. If it was coming from some other demographic group, I would say the same thing.”
U.S. Islamic leaders said King was unfairly tarring the Muslim community, which they said had helped U.S. law enforcement break up terrorist plots.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the sole Muslim member of Congress, said in an interview that he recently approached King on the House floor and offered to volunteer himself and other witnesses as proof that several terrorist plots – including those in Times Square and in Virginia – were initially brought to the attention of federal law enforcement by Muslims.
“I walked up to him like a colleague and said, ‘Pete, I’m kind of concerned about this,’ ” Ellison said.
King is considering Ellison’s offer. But he remains unmoved by the growing criticism, saying his weeklong hearings will go forward.
King noted that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspected Fort Hood shooter, had worshipped at a mosque in Falls Church, Va., where terrorist leader Anwar Awlaki was once a spiritual leader. Awlaki is now a fugitive in Yemen.
King also cited three other cases: A young Muslim in the Washington suburb of Ashburn, Va., was arrested on allegations that he tried to blow up subway lines feeding the Pentagon; a young Muslim in Portland is accused of attempting to detonate a bomb during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony; and a new Muslim convert in Baltimore is accused of planning to blow up an Army recruiting station.
He said there were signs in each of these cases of radicalization by local religious leaders, and added that 15 percent of young American Muslims in a Pew poll believed suicide bombing was justified.
“I also know of imams instructing members of their mosques not to cooperate with law enforcement investigating the recruiting of young men in their mosques as suicide bombers,” he said. “We need to find the reasons for this alienation.”
William C. Martel, an international security expert and professor at Tufts University, said that though the threat of radicalization from abroad was greater, it was “prudent” to investigate radicalization inside the U.S. as well.
“We need to understand all of the forces, whether overseas or here at home,” he said.