Los Angeles Sheriff Leroy Baca told lawmakers that community policing is critical to effective counterterrorism and bristled at congressman's allegations that he is an unwitting tool of CAIR
The sheriff of Los Angeles County told lawmakers today that the Muslim-American community has been a vital counterterrorism partner during a controversial congressional hearing on homegrown Islamic radicalization.
“Since we are gathered to share information about the American Muslim community and its response to radicalization, I can deliver very good news,” said Sheriff Lee Baca (.pdf) . “The Muslim community in Los Angeles is an active participant in the securing of our Homeland.”
Baca said that building trust between various ethnic and religious communities and law enforcement is vital to effective policing and counterterrorism. He explained that the same community policing approach he uses to handle gangs, he uses against jihadists.
“The Muslim community is no less or more important than others as no one can predict with complete accuracy who or what will pose the next threat against our nation,” Baca said in his prepared testimony. “Simply put, police need public participation, and to accomplish that, strategies such as public-trust policing need to be a priority in our nation.”
In a tense exchange, Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN) suggested that Sheriff Baca was an unwitting tool of the Council of Islamic-American Affairs (CAIR), which allegedly has connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas according to the FBI, Cravaack said.
"If the FBI has something to charge CAIR with and deal with it in that way," Baca said. "If CAIR is a criminal organization, prosecute them."
During his opening statement (.pdf) , House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-NY) King called out CAIR for telling Muslim-Americans to not cooperate with the FBI and displayed a poster from its California chapter, which read “Build a wall of resistance. Don't talk to the FBI.” He also noted that federal prosecutors named CAIR an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorist financing case involving the Holyland Foundation in 2007.
"There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen," King said during his opening statement, anticipating Democratic arguments. "Only al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation." King then went on to list numerous jihadists who have plotted to attack the United States over the past few years, including Najibullah Zazi, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, and Faisal Shahzad.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a self-described “devout Muslim, ” testified (.pdf) that a moral corruption has crept into his religion and hijacked it. While Jasser noted that the majority of American mosques do not preach political Islam, many others do, he said. In response, moderate Muslims must wage a counter-jihad, “inoculating Muslims with liberty.”
Lawmakers also heard from two family members of men who became violent jihadists. Melvin Bledsoe, the father of Muslim convert Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, spoke (.pdf) of how his son was “brainwashed” to carry out the shooting of two U.S. soldiers outside a recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2009. Muhammad’s attack killed Pvt. William Long and wounded Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula. Bledsoe said he hoped his story could help other families spot and stop the radicalization of loved ones.
The committee also heard from Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, the uncle of Burhan Hassan, a Somali-American immigrant who traveled from Minneapolis to Somalia to fight for the al Shabaab militia in country’s civil war. The U.S. State Department has designated al Shabaab a terrorist organization with links to al Qaeda.
During his testimony (.pdf) , Bihi said that the Abubakr As-Sadiqque mosque in Minneapolis helped radicalize and send his nephew and approximately 20 other young men to wage jihad in Somalia. He also alleged that mosque leadership intimidated him and other concerned community members, telling single mothers of recruits that if they notified law enforcement they would end up in the prison complex at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Critics of the Thursday's hearing accuse King of conducting a McCarthyite witchhunt, flouting the country's principles by targeting a single religion. King's supporters arguing he that has opened an important dialogue long stifled by political correctness. Those divisions carried into the hearing as Democrats denounced the hearing and Republicans supported it.
Democrats argued that extremist threats inside the United States come from all ethnicities, religions, and political persuasions.
Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) called on King to hold similar hearings on right-wing and antigovernment extremism. Thompson noted that the FBI arrested a suspected white supremacist for the failed bomb plot that allegedly targeted a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Spokane, Washington, in January.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is Muslim, testified as a witness and expressed his displeasure that the radicalization hearings focused exclusively on his community. Choking back tears, Ellison spoke of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a Muslim first responder who died on 9-11 trying to save people at the World Trade Center.
Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-GA), however, thanked King for holding the hearing and said the only way to protect the country is follow a lesson he learned in the U.S. Marines: know your enemy. Broun said those enemies are Islamists and jihadists.
Jasser said he hopes the hearing is a “pivot point” to create a public-private partnership to push a modern and reformist Islam that’s comfortable with American ideals.
♦ Photo of Sheriff Leroy Baca by Neon Tommy/Flickr