U.S. intelligence and customs and immigration agents addressed a Muslim students conference Sunday to try to help prevent disaffected youth from being converted into radical Islamists.
Martin Ficke, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York, told Reuters in an interview that U.S. officials were “very concerned” that an attack like the 2005 London transport bombings by four British Islamist youths could be repeated in the United States.
“If it happened in the UK, it could happen here. I think we’d be naive if we didn’t think we might potentially have the same problems as they had,” Ficke said.
“We’re very concerned ... and that was one of the reasons we decided to sit down and to make sure that we get ahead of this,” he said.
Ficke and Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the FBI’s criminal division in New York, took part in a panel discussion at the first American Muslim Students Conference.
'Youth are vulnerable'
The conference was attended by several hundred Muslim high school and university students, who raised questions about whether U.S. authorities were targeting Muslims, a suggestion rejected by both Arena and Ficke.
“The youth are vulnerable with today’s Internet, with what’s going on in the community they can potentially have access to people who would look to radicalize them,” Ficke told Reuters. “Whether it be to try to and elicit them to participate in some sort of event, or if it’s just for the purposes of getting support and financial support.”
For example, he said during the past year two Muslim minors had been detained in New York and deported.
“We thought that they were potentially -- we had very reliable information -- that they had been approached by someone to participate in an event,” Ficke said, declining to give details of the case.
He said Muslim leaders had approached U.S. agents in New York soon after the London bombings to ask for advice on how they could avoid the Muslim extremism experienced in Britain.
Four young British Islamists killed themselves and 52 commuters in suicide bomb attacks on London ’s transport system in July last year. In August this year more than 20 people were arrested in Britain in an alleged Islamist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners.
'Take total responsibility'
British Muslim politician Shahid Malik told the students that it was the Muslim community’s responsibility to make sure extremism is not tolerated.
He said American Muslims were more affluent and educated and had not experienced the kind of extremism seen in Britain. ”America doesn’t know how good its got it,” he said.
New York Imam Abdul Malik called on the students and the Muslim community to stop blaming other “take total responsibility for their own destiny.”
Estimates of the number of Muslim Americans vary between 3 million and 7 million.
The New York police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement both used the Muslim students conference to try and recruit.
Ficke declined to say how many Arabic speakers his agency had, except to say that “it is not enough.”