Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Radical Islamists are using the Internet to recruit homegrown terrorists in the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a Senate panel yesterday.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to send radical recruiters into the United States, and I think there’s a risk to doing that,” Mr. Chertoff told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“But I have no question about the fact that [Osama] bin Laden and [Ayman al-Zawahiri] and others like them quite consciously use the media, including the Internet, as a recruiting tool,” Mr. Chertoff said. “In terms of recruiting, I would say that the principal way to enter the U.S. is through the Internet.”

The committee yesterday expanded its investigation into the radicalization of inmates in U.S. prisons to include Internet and other media recruitment and the threat of growing Islamic radicalism in the U.S.

“The department’s own Homeland Security Advisory Council in a recent report called radical Islam the most significant terrorist threat to the homeland today, said that it is spreading, and predicted that the number and magnitude of attacks on the United States will increase,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and committee chairman.

“Assuming for a moment that there is some validity to the notion that there is a growing divide occurring here, one possible cause clearly is the use of the Internet to promote the terrorists’ dark age and hateful vision. It gives their multimedia campaigns of alienation and violence a global reach, including right into American homes and offices,” Mr. Lieberman said.

“We all want to make sure that our imaginations do not fail us again as we counter the possibility of this new threat of Islamist extremist and terrorist groups within our own country,” Mr. Lieberman said.

The committee is examining what Mr. Lieberman called “extremist propaganda” on the Internet and other “nodes” where radicalization may be occurring, including universities and mosques.

“We do know that universities and madrassas can be sites for radicalization,” Mr. Chertoff said.

Mr. Chertoff said the solution to reducing recruitment is to involve the local and ethnic communities rather than “monitoring people’s religious activities.”

“I’m not advocating a heavy federal footprint on this,” Mr. Chertoff said.

Rep. Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican, last week introduced legislation to urge video-trading Web sites like to remove jihad propaganda videos, calling such sites “a new battleground on the Internet.”

Mr. Shuster says the sites support terrorist fundraising and help distribute propaganda, as well as recruit and train future terrorists.

“I doubt that the American public in World War II would have accepted the major media outlets of the time distributing Nazi propaganda at face value,” Mr. Shuster said. “Times have changed, media has evolved, but the fact remains — terrorists hope their supporters see these videos and are encouraged to attack Western interests.”

“These videos aid the enemy, and they must be confronted,” Mr. Shuster said.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the panel, initiated the committee investigation as the chairman last year with the focus on prisons, and said they have unearthed “examples of radical recruiters, where radical imams were going into the prisons and trying to convert and radicalize.”

Mr. Chertoff agreed and said, “The presence of a radical imam is probably more dangerous because it’s a more dynamic recruiting environment.”

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