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EDITORIAL: When religious discrimination is vital

Portland escaped carnage, but terrorism is still a threat

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Portland, Ore., is learning a hard lesson about the price of political correctness. In 2005, the city halted participation in the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) over concerns about the George W. Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism. Last week, the task force took down Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who had planned to bomb 12,000 people at a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square. City fathers now are considering rejoining the JTTF structure, citing the change in leadership under the purportedly more trustworthy Obama administration. It's more likely that the near miss clarified Portland's ivory-tower view of the world.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which supported Portland's 2005 pullout from the task force, opposes the city's getting back in the war. The ACLU claims the reason Portland left the JTTF in 2005 was because of problems with police oversight inside the task-force structure. The city lost operational control of its officers while they were working with the FBI, which was thought to create potential liability issues. But in praising Portland for withdrawing from the JTTF in 2005, the ACLU noted the "ample evidence that several FBI task forces elsewhere have targeted individuals because of their political or religious affiliations," which indicates what actually upsets the group.

Not all political and religious affiliations are equally legitimate, and some need to be targeted. Terrorism is a form of political activity, the very kind that the JTTF system was designed to counter. It's no surprise that people who espouse radical, violent political acts are being watched; that is the purpose of the task force. When confronting groups motivated by a terrorist ideology based on Islam, religious affiliations have to be taken into account. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but a radical Muslim terrorist is a Muslim by definition. Ignoring that fact deprives the FBI of key insights into the motivations, objectives and tactics of members of this violent subculture.

The ACLU's approach resembles the failed policies of the 1990s, when claims of religious orientation were used as a cover for jihadist cells to organize, recruit and proselytize inside the United States. In those days, the government restricted how agents could keep an eye on such activities because of magnified concerns that the bureaucracy might infringe on religious freedoms. So, for example, agents might know that a meeting of radicals was taking place inside a mosque, but they could not watch the building or even collect the tag numbers of cars parked in the parking lot because the entire structure was off-limits. These and other restrictions greatly hampered operations against Muslim radicals operating in the United States and were lifted only after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made clear the extent of the threat.

Would-be bomber Mohamed Osman Mohamud fits the generic terrorist profile. He is male, like the majority of terrorists. He is young, like most terrorist foot soldiers. He is a naturalized American born in Somalia, a community that lately has seen an upsurge in radicalization and has been the subject of special concern. And Mr. Mohamud expressed violent extremist views to undercover FBI agents who convinced him they were jihadist fellow travelers. Considering that the bureau successfully broke up his murderous plot, it is a mission accomplished. Now that Portland has been proven to be on the front lines, the City of Roses should rejoin the Joint Terrorism Task Force and get back in the war.

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