Florida Killings: Radical Islam And The Far Right, Under One Roof This story begins with four roommates in Florida. It ends with two dead and two in jail. The improbable case brings together security threats that rarely intersect: radical Islam and the far right.
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Florida Killings: Radical Islam And The Far Right, Under One Roof

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Florida Killings: Radical Islam And The Far Right, Under One Roof

Florida Killings: Radical Islam And The Far Right, Under One Roof

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's listen to a story now about young men and extremism. This is a murder case in Florida that involves both radical Islam and the far right, two extremist threats that pose an ongoing challenge to law enforcement nationwide. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre reports from Tampa.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: The Hamptons apartment complex is lush and modern. Stucco homes are painted in a soft rainbow of pastels. All around are palm trees, Spanish moss and lily pads.

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MICHAEL COLON: It is a very quiet place. You have a lot of children that live here. You know, a lot of professionals live here, retirees.

MYRE: Michael Colon and his wife, Shirley, live here. They're sitting poolside describing how that tranquility was shattered on May 19.

SHIRLEY COLON: We were here, actually.

M. COLON: I was sitting right here, and I heard a lot of hubbub going on.

S. COLON: Just noticed a car going fast, the car coming back out again.

M. COLON: Cop cars coming in, and firemen followed them.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: We are following some breaking news right now out of Tampa tonight, where two people were found shot dead in...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: A Florida man is in police custody after allegedly...

MYRE: Tampa police captain, Ruben Delgado, describes what the officers found.

RUBEN DELGADO: It's a pretty graphic scene. We discovered the two deceased inside the apartment.

MYRE: The dead men were roommates. A third roommate, 18-year-old Devon Arthurs, told police that he shot them. Arthurs claims they all had neo-Nazi beliefs, though there's some dispute on this point. But here's the twist. Arthurs says he converted to Islam and killed his roommates because they disrespected his new faith.

Police found Arthurs across the street, holding three hostages at a strip mall. He says he was angry about U.S. attacks on Muslim countries. Police Captain Delgado.

DELGADO: The two officers spent about 15 minutes talking to Devon, getting him to drop the gun.

MYRE: After Arthurs surrendered, the story kept getting stranger. As Arthurs led police back to his apartment, a man in military camouflage was sitting outside - a fourth roommate, Private Brandon Russell, who's in the National Guard. Captain Delgado explains.

DELGADO: He was visibly shaken by what he saw. I believe he had seen the two roommates inside already.

MYRE: Russell wasn't involved in the shooting. But in his bedroom, police found, on a dresser next to his bed, a framed photo of Timothy McVeigh, the far-right terrorist who blew up a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995. In the garage, police found chemicals for making explosives. One was ammonium nitrate, which Timothy McVeigh use to kill 168 people.

PETER BERGEN: We have a jihadist terrorist problem. But we also have a neo-Nazi, far-right-wing terrorism problem.

MYRE: Peter Bergen is a counterterrorism analyst at New America in Washington. The think tank documents deadly attacks by extremists in the United States. Since 9/11, the far right has carried out more individual attacks, though the overall death toll is higher in the jihadist attacks.

BERGEN: Most Americans tend to frame terrorism as coming from Islamist, jihadist militants. And, you know, that's fair enough. But, of course, there are other forms of political violence.

MYRE: Now, as we said, Devon Arthurs was arrested at the scene. But his roommate, National Guardsman Brandon Russell, was not, in part because investigators were still testing those chemicals in his garage. So Russell drove to the Florida Keys and legally bought two rifles and 500 rounds of ammunition. Devon Arthurs described Russell as the leader of a neo-Nazi group and also claimed, though it's unproven, that group members wanted to blow up synagogues and electric power lines. Police arrested Russell in Key Largo two days after the shooting.

This tangled investigation has come to involve police, the FBI, the ATF and the National Guard. But no one has been charged with terrorism. Devon Arthurs is charged with murder and kidnapping. Brandon Russell is accused of possessing explosive materials. Andrew Warren, the state prosecutor in Tampa, won't discuss these investigations. But he did describe, in broad terms, the thinking on dealing with extremists.

ANDREW WARREN: Since 9/11, there's been an ongoing discussion within the criminal justice community about how to best handle terrorism cases. And those cases are often best handled as criminal cases.

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MYRE: Back at the apartment complex, Michael Colon says he wasn't expecting such drama when he and his wife retired a year ago and moved here from New York.

M. COLON: 9/11, to me, was one thing. That was definitely a terrorist attack.

MYRE: He concedes threats can come from anywhere and notes, correctly, that most attackers are homegrown.

M. COLON: If you look at the major things that have happened here lately, it's not been the outsiders, you know? And I think that what's happening here is that it has to do with extremists. They worry me more than the guys that ISIS supposedly are actually sending down.

MYRE: So where to draw the line between ordinary crime and terrorism? And which threats are the greatest? This is a challenge for law enforcement and national security officials trying to keep the country safe. Greg Myre, NPR News, Tampa.

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