Pilot plan aims to stop people from joining terrorist groups in CA

Apr 20, 2015 12:30 PM by Debbie Cobb

AP-US-- The Obama administration is piloting programs in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis focused on tackling global terrorism on a local scale. But some community members and activists worry the efforts will amount to wide-scale government surveillance of Muslim communities. Some questions and answers about the initiative:


At its core, officials say, the program called Countering Violent Extremism is about developing local programs aimed at preventing youths and other vulnerable people from joining extremist groups. The effort draws some parallels to gang and gun violence prevention efforts already in place in cities nationwide.

The program is part of President Barack Obama's overall plan to address rising extremism worldwide. It involves U.S. attorneys' offices, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, other major law enforcement agencies and, critically, local faith-based and community groups.

Other countries, notably in Europe, have instituted similar programs with varying degrees of success. Britain's program is called Prevent and describes itself as aiming "to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism."



The Department of Justice says the three cities were chosen primarily because local law enforcement officials there have spent years building relationships with Muslim and other minority communities. That, the department says, makes them a logical starting point to test new strategies, which, if successful, would be tried out in other cities.

The three cities have also had recent experiences with homegrown terrorism. Boston was the site of the 2013 marathon bombings, which were perpetrated by two Cambridge-raised brothers seeking to retaliate for U.S. attacks in Muslim countries.

Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the U.S., has seen nearly two dozen young Somali men recruited to fight for al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group, since 2007, and a handful more have gone to fight in Syria.

In the Los Angeles area, four men were sentenced to prison this year for their role in a conspiracy to travel to Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops and support terrorists.

On Sunday, six people were arrested in Minneapolis and San Diego as part of an investigation into youths who have traveled or tried to travel to Syria to fight with militants.



There is no official funding for the pilot programs, but local agencies and community groups have already committed time and manpower to try and get it off the ground.

Obama, in the federal budget he proposed in February, has called for a $15 million allocation, to be split among the cities to bolster their efforts. Local organizers say that money is critical to making many of their plans a reality. The request, along with the president's overall spending plan, is currently before Congress.



The pilot cities have each come up with a rough plan for how they intend to approach the issue. These plans were unveiled at a White House summit in February after months of local development.

BOSTON: A few initiatives are geared specifically to violent extremism, such as inviting experts to talk about the various types of extremist organizations or encouraging groups to develop social media messages that can combat extremist propaganda. Other programs would look to address violent extremism in the context of other challenges immigrant and minority communities face, including cultural assimilation, domestic violence, gangs, drugs and poverty.

LOS ANGELES: Programs include the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, which aims to identify emerging leaders and put them in contact with others inside and outside Muslim communities; Bayan Claremont, an Islamic graduate school established in 2011, which offers a master's degree that aims to improve the ability of religious leaders to deal with racism and violence; and New Ground, an interfaith partnership created to lessen tension between Muslims and Jews.

MINNEAPOLIS: Efforts focus on the area's large Somali population. Members of that community worked with the U.S. attorney's office to develop a program that addresses the root causes of radicalization through programs such as employment help, college scholarships and social media campaigns.



That remains to be seen. Organizers concede it's generally hard to measure prevention. Plus, many of the efforts are works in progress. Still, organizers promise to come up with performance metrics that will help measure success and justify any future the program has.



The program's official name is Countering Violent Extremism - a blunt, aggressive moniker that even its leaders tacitly acknowledge could work against it.

In all three cities, officials have tried to avoid using the term CVE - tossed around frequently in bureaucratic documents, town halls and interviews with reporters - with specific program participants.


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