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FBI Relies On Local Communities To Identify Foreign Fighters
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FBI Relies On Local Communities To Identify Foreign Fighters

National Security

FBI Relies On Local Communities To Identify Foreign Fighters

FBI Relies On Local Communities To Identify Foreign Fighters
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The director of the FBI, James Comey, told an audience in New York this week that there is no pattern to identify the people who are traveling to Syria to fight — so the FBI is counting on local communities to tip them off to foreign fighters. The program is part of the Obama administration's effort to Combat Violent Extremism. Muslim communities are wary.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The FBI says it's having trouble identifying Americans who might go to fight in Syria. They don't fit any profile. So the Bureau is counting on local communities to let it know when someone might travel to Syria. But as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, some Muslim-American communities are wary of law enforcement authorities.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Of all the recent terrorism cases in this country, there's one in particular that rattled that the FBI.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Three teenaged girls back in Colorado tonight after officials say they tried to fly to Syria to join ISIS.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It alarmed the FBI because they had no reason to suspect schoolgirls. It wasn't until family members tipped them off that agents realized the girls were going to join ISIS. The FBI intercepted the trio in Frankfurt, Germany, and then sent them back to their parents. It turns out the girls weren't going to fight. They were recruited to become wives in the so-called Islamic State. FBI Director James Comey talked about the case at a national security conference at Fordham University earlier this week.

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JAMES COMEY: As a FBI director, obviously that's alarming. As a father, I find that shocking and horrifying. But it is part of the phenomenon that we're grappling with right now.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The Denver case isn't the only example. Just this week, the FBI revealed that a 19-year-old suburban Chicago man, who was charged with seeking to join the so-called Islamic State, was taking his 16 and 17-year-old siblings with him. Comey said these cases are the latest evidence that the propaganda from the Islamic State is resonating with all kinds of Americans.

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COMEY: White people, black people, South Asian heritage, Asian heritage, we see people from all walks of life. As best we've been able to determine that the common feature is they're troubled souls who are seeking some sort of meaning in their life.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The FBI director says there is a solution - get the community involved. Over the past 20 years, in one terrorism case after another, Comey says, someone saw something but didn't think to report it.

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COMEY: All of us do that as human beings. You see something that seems weird to you and the hair stands up on the back of your neck and you write some narrative like I must've misunderstood. He must just be having a difficult day. I probably didn't hear that right. Our ask of our fellow citizens is don't do that.

HASSAN SHIBLY: My name is Hassan Shibly. I'm an attorney and executive director of CAIR-Florida, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Hassan Shibly has mixed feelings about the FBI's outreach to the Muslim community. He says he welcomes a new initiative to combat violent extremism, also known as CVE. But at times, it can seem a bit two-faced to members of the Muslim community.

SHIBLY: We just feel like they're partners with law enforcement when they're sitting at the table. And yet when they go back into their communities or enjoy their day-to-day life as Muslims, they often face unfair and unjustified scrutiny by law enforcement, which counters the positive effect that CVE intends to build.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Here's an example - Shibly says three imams from the largest mosques around Tampa, Florida, complained that FBI agents showed up in the past week, asking them questions without a lawyer present. The imams felt the agents were trying to turn them into informants, Shibly said, and that creates distrust.

SHIBLY: But that being said, look, the community's top concern is the safety of this country. And I don't think the community is going to not report a threat if a threat exists.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There are more than 140 Americans who have traveled to Syria. The FBI thinks there are about a dozen who've joined ISIS. The new initiatives are aimed at keeping those numbers from getting any bigger. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, New York.

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