FBI and American Muslims: Balancing trust, suspicion
Homeland Security Secretary"Home-based terrorism is here," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a recent speech in which she cited the arrests of U.S. citizens suspected of plotting attacks with al-Qaeda and other Muslim groups. The five Virginia men are U.S. citizens.
As the FBI and police have reached out to Arab and Muslim communities across the US, forging ties of trust and and reciprocity, there has also been the uneasiness of having to probe terror connections, and investigate the degree of seriousness, and connecting links to the middle east.
Law enforcement have had many occasions of the need to investigate or suspect activities such as the providing of material support to terrorist organizations. Prosecutors are often faced with the complex task of having to decipher whether reported admissions to Pakistani authorities are admissible in a U.S. court and whether such statements were in any way coerced.
The concern about domestic terrorism as a threat is one that increases with time.
Finding the balance between building trust with US Muslim communities, while trying to keep at bay the threat of internal opposition is a tenuous one. This ardent task is made worse by the fact that President Barack Obama - in a decisive break with his predecessor and the entire W Bush Administration - has vowed to improve and repair relations with Muslims around the globe.
In the Washington Post piece on which this article is founded, it is stated: When asked about the arrests in Pakistan, Obama praised "the extraordinary contributions of the Muslim-American community."
U.S. law enforcement officials have praised the Muslim community for coming forward with concerns about its own, in relation to domestic terror threat, which the FBI has lauded as a 'very positive step'.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, FBI agents from the same office have met with Muslim leaders, fielded questions at mosques and participated in Ramadan feasts. The outreach might well have resulted in the families of the five men coming forward to the FBI to report them missing.
But that action now has agents and prosecutors facing a dilemma as the case has morphed from a missing persons investigation into a counter-terrorism probe. As U.S. officials consider whether to file criminal charges against the men and how aggressively to prosecute any potential case, some Muslim leaders are calling for leniency, saying the tough approach often used by the Bush administration would alienate a community whose relationship with law enforcement is uneasy.
"Charging them and throwing them in jail is not the solution," said Nihad Awad, national head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which approached the FBI on behalf of the families. "The government has to show some appreciation for the actions of the parents and the community. That will encourage other families to come forward."
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Omaha, Nebraska, United States