Federal anti-terror programs stoke community interest, criticism

Published 10:31 am Friday, February 12, 2016

By Mila Koumpilova

Minneapolis Star Tribune

A trio of federal pilot projects aimed at thwarting violent extremism are off to a tentative start.

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Minneapolis and two other cities chosen to host the Department of Justice anti-terror initiative are taking different approaches, but all three are facing common hurdles.

Community critics have pushed back, arguing the pilot projects train a damaging spotlight on Muslim communities and mainly seek to keep tabs on them. A lawsuit last week charges the feds have withheld documents that could shed more light on the initiative.

The pilots have also drawn a diverse cast of supporters who see a chance for government and community members to team up on preventing violence. But some are getting impatient with the slow pace and modest federal investment so far. In Los Angeles, law enforcement officials say the project has backfired, sowing confusion and alarm in Muslim communities. Thanks in part to an infusion of private and state dollars, Minneapolis has moved furthest beyond the planning phase.

Some community leaders say they’ll continue efforts to combat radical recruitment — without waiting on the feds.

“We have to figure it out for ourselves,” said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the LA-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. “We can’t wait for the next San Bernardino or the next Fort Hood or the next Boston Marathon.”

In September 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the three “Countering Violent Extremism” pilots, invoking the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and attempts by Americans to join the group in the Middle East. In each city, U.S. attorney offices would enlist community partners and shape their own initiatives.