FBI Official, Imam Discuss Homegrown Terrorism

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FBI's John Miller

The FBI's John Miller is working to build relationships with Muslim-American communities. Getty Images hide caption

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The FBI is trying to strengthen its ties with Muslim-American communities in the wake of two recent news stories that raise the question of why people who have lived in the United States for years might want to attack it.

Opening arguments began Monday in the trial of Jose Padilla, who is accused of being part of a terrorism support network in Miami; and last week, six men were arrested in New Jersey on suspicion of planning to attack soldiers at Fort Dix. Padilla is an American citizen. The New Jersey men are immigrants, but they had lived in the United States for years.

John Miller, assistant director of public affairs for the FBI, explains the bureau's thinking behind the new Muslim partnerships.

The conversation continues with Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America. He talks about his long-standing relationship with the FBI.

Highlights of the interviews below, full audio above.

Michel Martin Speaks with the FBI's John Miller:

How did you start these conversations?

On a rocky path. We began our contact with the Arab and Muslim communities in particular in December 2005.

Are there any other groups with whom you have these kinds of relationships?

Through the Community Outreach unit, we're in the midst of some major meetings with African-American ministers. On the Eastern seaboard, right now we deal with the Hispanic community. But I put outreach to Arab-American and Muslim groups as a top priority because I think you have to focus your efforts where gaps in trust are widest.

Are there any concerns that your relationships might marginalize people in their standing in the community?

Well, we're not talking about snitching. Snitching is when your friend steals a piece of candy in a deli and you run and tell the teacher about it. When someone identifies an individual or a group of people who are going to commit mass murder, the person who holds back that information becomes complicit ... and many people are going to die.

Michel Martin Speaks with Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali:

Anyone might not be pleased to get a phone call from the FBI, especially at a time of such national anxiety. How did you feel?

Actually, some of the community had concerns. Members of the community asked questions about the nature of the relationship with the FBI. I explained to them, this is a two-way street. We are here to protect the country we live in, [to] make sure our religion will not be hijacked by extremists. We would like to send a message to everyone that our community will not tolerate anyone who would like to infiltrate the community or misuse our resources to do harm to this country.

The FBI has not always had the best reputation among some communities in this country. Sometimes its behavior with minority communities within the United States has been questioned.

Of course. That's why we need the dialogue. What we would like to see happening here in this relationship is not to repeat the mistakes done in the Civil Rights Movement, for example — where there were reports that some people were being mistreated by law enforcement. We would like to make sure this is really happening in daylight, nothing that we can hide from our community. And we would like to be proud of the relationship of partnership. ... I would like to see my community treated as a partner, not a suspect.

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