US steps up drive to stop citizens from joining ISIS

US steps up drive to stop citizens from joining ISIS

The United States is taking added steps to stem the flow of American fighters joining ISIS, even as another case of an American trying to do so surfaced, this time of 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan who was stopped at an airport and charged this week.

The teen was on his way from Chicago to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and is one of more than 100 US citizens who have joined or tried to join the militant group.

This is a fraction of the estimated 12,000 Western foreign fighters, who originate mainly from Europe and pose a possible threat to their homelands if they return and carry out terror attacks.

While legislation is already in place to arrest and prosecute those about to become foreign fighters, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also reaching out to the community for help.

On Tuesday, the FBI launched a campaign asking the public for help in identifying foreign fighters by sending tips and leads online.

"We need the public's assistance in identifying US persons going to fight overseas with terrorist groups or who are returning home from fighting overseas," said FBI assistant director of counter-terrorism Michael Steinbach in a statement on its website.

Government agencies are also working with community groups, hoping they can engage the young before they set out on the path of religious extremism.

For example, late last month, the US Justice Department launched a pilot programme in cities across the country - Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles - aimed at deterring Americans from joining violent extremist groups.

This will be run in partnership with the White House, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Centre.

Reports said the scheme would bring law enforcement, educators, mental health and public health professionals, as well as religious and community leaders together to share information.

Mr Imran Malik, chairman of the board of directors at the Noor Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin, Ohio, says his centre, which serves as a community centre and a mosque, will be speaking with law enforcement this week on how to work with schools to prevent radicalisation.

Said Mr Imran: "We need to provide alternative platforms for young adults to focus their energies. It could be a food drive for a local church or synagogue or cleaning the neighbourhood."

This month, the White House will also host a summit on domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremism, and address the "full life cycle of radicalisation to violence posed by the foreign fighter risk", said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a recent speech.

Further details have not been released.

However, security experts believe more targeted messaging is necessary.

Mr Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said many recruits think they are fighting for the "pure version of Islam", but "the truth is, they will most likely fight for a version of Islam that justifies the killing of other Muslims".

Using militants who return disillusioned to share their stories is a good way to "undermine the allure of ISIS' recruitment messages", said Professor John Horgan, director of the Centre for Terrorism and Security Studies at University of Massachusetts Lowell.

In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday said moves were under way to prevent "race hate" preachers from entering the country, reported Agence France-Presse.

Immigration officials "can tag them should they apply for a visa, and it can refuse visas to people who are coming to this country to peddle extreme and alien ideologies", it quoted him as saying.

This article was first published on Oct 9, 2014.
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