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
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
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; another young Muslim in Portland, Ore., 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
But Ellison pointed to a case in which five young men in Virginia traveled
to Pakistan to join a jihad, only to “have their parents step forward to
stop them” by tipping off police. He also mentioned Faisal Shahzad, who was
arrested and sentenced to life in prison last year for trying to detonate a
bomb in his SUV in New York’s Times Square. It was a Muslim immigrant from
Senegal who alerted police to the suspicious vehicle.
“The bottom line is you have people who desperately want to help protect
their country,” Ellison said, “and they are being nudged out of that
opportunity because we’re told we are the problem.”
Corey P. Saylor, national legislative director for the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, said two members of his organization had alerted
police to possible terrorist plots.
Saylor called King’s investigation a “witch hunt.” But Ellison said, “I
don’t think Pete King is an evil person. He’s concerned about public safety
and homeland security. And there have been cases where Muslims have done
awful things. But it’s a narrow investigation, and it’s going to make a
particular group feel targeted.”
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
“We need to understand all of the forces, whether overseas or here at home,”
he said. “It’s much more severe overseas, obviously. But I don’t think it’s
a nonzero situation here. It would be prudent to understand what’s going on
here in this regard, too.”