Testimony of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca before the House Committee on Homeland Security on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response”
Statement by Lee Baca
Sheriff – Los Angeles County
“The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response”
Committee on Homeland Security US House of Representatives
Washington DC March 10, 2011
I appreciate the opportunity to add to a discussion on an important topic that affects all of our communities. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has long been a leader in the development of relationships with the various ethnic, cultural and religious communities that thrive in the Los Angeles area. Nowhere is that relationship more positive than that which exists between my agency and the American Muslim Community. We have established strong bonds through continuing outreach and physical presence at events important to the community and law enforcement.
I would caution that to comment only on the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim Community may be viewed as singling out a particular section of our nation. This makes a false assumption that any particular religion or group is more prone to radicalization than others. According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), utilizing information provided by respected organizations such as the Congressional Research Service, the Heritage Foundation, and Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been 77 total terror plots by domestic, non-Muslim perpetrators since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 41 total plots by both domestic and international Muslim perpetrators during the same period. Reports indicate that American Muslims helped foil seven of the last ten plots propagated by Al-Qaeda within the United States. According to MPAC, evidence clearly indicates a general rise in violent extremism across ideologies. Clearly, we should be examining radicalization as an issue that affects all groups regardless of religion.
It is counterproductive to building trust when individuals or groups claim that Islam supports terrorism. This plays directly into the terrorist’s propaganda that the West’s “war on terror” is actually a “war against Islam.” It is critical to build mutually respectful relationships with American Muslim communities and endeavor to work together to protect all Americans whether locally or internationally.
Since we are gathered to share information about the American Muslim Community and its response to radicalization, I can deliver very good news. The Muslim Community in Los Angeles is an active participant in the securing of our Homeland. Whether as new immigrants or multi-generational citizens, the vast majority of Muslim community members within my jurisdiction is fiercely proud of their American identity and display their patriotism on a daily basis.
When I made critical outreach to the community after 9/11, I was overwhelmed by the number of Muslims who, while under threat from misinformed sources, were ready and willing to connect with law enforcement to help keep the peace.
On September 13, 2001, I convened a meeting led by then Governor Gray Davis, Mayor James Hahn, and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, in addition to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Interfaith Council. The message to all our residents was to refrain from invoking religious assumptions regarding the 9-11 terrorist attacks on America. A few criminals with a twisted and corrupted view of religious doctrine had perpetrated universally condemned crimes against our citizens. They did not represent the vast majority of American Muslims any more than Timothy McVeigh represented his community.
Shortly after the July 7, 2005 transit bombings in London, the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress (MAHSC) was formed in Los Angeles County to engage the Muslim community in our efforts to counter violent extremism. MAHSC is comprised of leaders from the religious, business, professional and academic centers of the American Muslim Community in Los Angeles. MAHSC supports the efforts of our Muslim Community Affairs Unit (MCA) made up of Arabic-speaking Muslim deputy sheriffs and key leaders of the Sheriff’s Department. Together, we engage in community forums and participate in events to discuss issues that are common to both the community and law enforcement. MAHSC provides support to the homeland security efforts of my Department and has helped in minimizing isolation and misunderstanding between the community and law enforcement.
American Muslim community leaders within Los Angeles have not hesitated to put themselves in potentially uncomfortable positions to interact with law enforcement. Late in 2010, MPAC enthusiastically responded to a request to speak at the annual Radicalization and Homegrown Violent Extremism Conference which is coordinated by my Department. Attended by more than 200 law enforcement personnel, Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati and Communications Director Edina Lekovic subjected themselves to an intense period of questions and answers from the audience regarding Islam, radicalization and terrorism. Due to their courage and willingness to answer any question presented, the evaluation of their performance was overwhelmingly positive.
Our Sheriff’s Department has a history of working closely with all the diverse communities in Los Angeles County. Our Department’s efforts in community outreach and interaction is a nationally recognized model that has proven successful in countering potentially violent extremist activity. In particular, the success of our relationships with American Muslims residing within Los Angeles County has been examined by a multitude of agencies across the nation as well as globally. The Sheriff’s Department outreach programs are not linked to counter-terrorism or intelligence units. Our outreach is real and genuine. We are only interested in building long-term, trusted relationships with our communities. Where those relationships have existed with no underlying intent, critical information has been gained and shared with appropriate partners.
As the community leaders who have engaged with our Department share their experiences with their contacts across the nation, interest in our program has skyrocketed. In the past six months, Sergeant Mike Abdeen and Deputy Sherif Morsi, of the Muslim Community Affairs Unit, have made presentations to the National Sheriff’s
Association Conference, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), the United States Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and have recently been invited to speak at the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC). Their ability to create and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between the Muslim Community and the Sheriff’s Department is nothing short of remarkable. One visibly striking example of success is the reception received by a uniformed deputy sheriff driving a marked Sheriff’s patrol vehicle to events at our local Islamic Centers. Our personnel are not seen as a threat or person to be avoided but rather a pleasant and welcome part of the community.
We are founding members of the Law Enforcement Outreach Coordinators Group in Los Angeles which includes the Los Angeles Police Department, the City of Los Angeles, the California Emergency Management Agency, the FBI, United States Attorney General’s Office, the Transportation Security Administration, and our most supportive federal partner, the Department of Homeland Security.
All of these agencies recognize that you cannot arrest or enforce your way out of the radicalization issue. The outreach to community members and the building of relationships will lead to a trusted network for sharing of information and contacts.
These relationships are crucial to mitigate a threat, or more importantly, recognize the threat at a stage where a person, or a group, on the wrong path can be righted.
I have long recognized that law enforcement alone cannot generate the necessary intelligence and response to the presence of violent extremism without the cooperation and support of the American Muslim Community. According to the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions report “Building on Clues: Examining Successes and Failures in Detecting U.S. Terrorist Plots 1999-2009,” fully 40 percent of all extremist plots were thwarted as a result of tips from the public and informants. There is no better example than that of Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s father, Umaru, who was so worried about his son’s radicalization that he felt compelled to report it to proper authorities (Nigerian Embassy). I believe that Umaru Abdulmutallab is not the exception but the rule for most of American Muslims. When confronted with a situation over which they have lost control, most parents will find a way to intervene. It is up to us to provide the channel for that information to flow with dignity and respect for the person reporting.
In America, we are obligated to protect all citizens and their respective religions, and to effectively detect and find extremists. Police leaders must have the trust and understanding of all communities who are represented in their jurisdictions. 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. Simply put, police need public participation, and to accomplish that, strategies such as public-trust policing need to be a priority in our nation.
To maintain a safe society free of violent extremism, police leaders must apply public- trust policing techniques that lead to appropriate channels of communication and participation with the public. Los Angeles County has aggressively pursued a public-trust policing program by building relationships with all faiths to achieve interfaith harmony. Los Angeles County has many interfaith efforts; the Sheriff’s Department developed an Interfaith Advisory Council consisting of more than 300 Rabbis, Priests, Imams, Ministers, Monks, and faith leaders of all religions.
With more than one billion Muslims worldwide, outreach to that particular community cannot remain a local matter.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department strives to build strong relationships with government professionals from all over the world including those with significant Muslim populations. I have traveled extensively throughout the world with the purpose of creating a network of policing and governmental professionals who feel comfortable sharing best practices to overcome common problems. To further solidify international relationships, members of the Sheriff’s Department have embarked upon professional diplomacy efforts to countries which include Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Mexico, China, Taiwan, South Korea, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Russia, the Netherlands, Canada, Morocco, Singapore, Armenia and Great Britain. The investment of time and effort in the professional diplomacy arena pays tremendous dividends when international cooperation is necessary.
In traditional law enforcement, more money is spent on the response to incidents than in prevention or mitigation efforts. I believe that those efforts should be equalized. With the prevention and educational efforts being pursued by our outreach programs, we think the smart money is on the front end. If you can turn anger into understanding and violence into civic activism, there would be no necessity for response.
At this time in our history, with billions of dollars being spent on wars against terror, our nation should follow President Obama’s example and serve as instruments of goodwill to Muslims throughout the world.
It is my belief that the average American has the potential to be our best ambassador of goodwill, however, Senators, Representatives, Governors, Mayors, Boards of Supervisors, Sheriffs, and Police Chiefs must set the example with a desire to visit Islamic centers and communicate with Muslims in the quest for a better understanding of Islam. Our enemies cannot thrive or even survive when a majority of people share common goals and pledge to be an asset to each other in the fight to counter violent extremism.
As a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, I would like to commend Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for her initiative on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). I dedicate myself and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to continue our efforts to make our citizens safer. I look forward to answering any questions you may have. Thank you.