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PRICE: U.S. terrorist threat growing with new breed of jihadists

- - Tuesday, April 23, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The influence of radical Islam is on the rise around the world — and in the United States.

Mosques and Islamic schools called madrassas increasingly are teaching extreme, fundamentalist interpretations of the religion that presumably inspired the Chechen-born suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.

"The way to gain influence among the Muslim community is to control the mosques — to control what people think — to have the right imam preach the right message," says Steven Emerson, an award-winning journalist and author.

Mr. Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, shared with me shocking insights about the growth of radical Islam in the United States, noting that terrorist network cells have grown rapidly since 1991.

A map painstakingly produced by his nonprofit organization identifies 127 terrorist training and teaching centers in more than 36 states.

It also shows an al Qaeda presence in Ashland and Quincy, Mass., even though bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly has told authorities that he and his older brother Tamerlan acted alone in the Boston Marathon attack, which killed three and injured more than 180 on April 15.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev reportedly posted videos of radical Islamic preachers on his YouTube page.

Mary Habeck, a researcher in radical Islam at Johns Hopkins University, said that Russian sheik Abdel al-Hamid al-Juhani is an "important ideologue for al Qaeda in Chechnya and the Caucasus … [and] preaches the form of Salafism that Tsarnaev was [allegedly] interested in — one that is usually associated with al Qaeda," according to a recent report by The Daily Beast.

Salafism and Wahhabism are extreme, fundamentalist interpretations of Islam whose teachings have been gaining adherents around the world. They call for strict enforcement of Islamic or Shariah law under a global theocracy. The strictest adherents advocate the killing of unbelievers, or infidels.

One impetus behind the increase in these radical Islamic teachings is the work of a key U.S. ally in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has sponsored several charities that have been spreading the Salafist and Wahhabist message, such as the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and the International Islamic Relief Organization. Both charities have built numerous mosques and madrassas around the world.

In 2004, the Treasury Department accused the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation of having direct ties to Osama bin Laden, and the U.N. 1267 Sanctions Committee has issued a worldwide ban against the charity.

In a 2003 public hearing on terrorism, Mr. Emerson noted that bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, was the leader of the International Islamic Relief Organization. The U.N. has since listed the charity's offices in the Philippines and Indonesia as being linked to al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has financed more than 4,000 mosques and madrassas around the world, with more than 2,000 being built in the U.S. — a 50 percent increase since 2000 and a 100 percent increase since 1990 — mostly led by Wahhabi-trained imams.

Seif Ashmawi, an Egyptian-American newspaper publisher, issued what is now an oft-repeated quote: "Radical Islamic groups have now taken over leadership of the mainstream Islamic institutions in the United States." The late moderate Muslim journalist made that statement in the 1990s.

We can only wonder today how many Tsarnaev brothers are being trained for terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

John Price is a former U.S. ambassador to Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles islands. He currently serves as a resident scholar at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. He is the author of "When the White House Calls," and regularly writes commentaries on Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.