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Homeland Security Secretary Quizzed about Muslim Radicalism

Does the United States face a threat of homegrown radical Islamic terrorism? That is a question put to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday. VOA's Peter Fedynsky has details.

Members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee expressed concern that some American Muslims could be radicalized under foreign influence to commit acts of terror in the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the committee the principle way of spreading such influence is through the Internet.

"I don't think it's necessary to send radical recruiters into the United States, and I think there's a risk to doing that,” Chertoff said. “But I have no question about the fact that [Osama] bin Laden, [Ayman al-] Zawahiri and others like them quite consciously use the media, including the Internet, as a recruiting tool."

Chertoff and members of the committee were quick to point out that the ideology of violent extremism cannot be equated with the entire Muslim faith.

"We know that the vast majority of Muslims in this country, like the vast majority of Jews and Christians, are not violent, are not adherents to an extreme ideology and are full participants in the United States,” Chertoff said. “So we have to make sure we don't ever make that improper connection or equation of this ideology in any religion."

Secretary Chertoff said his department has regular meetings with Muslim communities across America to promote civic engagement and to discuss issues of mutual concern.

Committee member Claire McCaskill said the United States should similarly engage Muslims abroad. The Missouri Democrat expressed concern that America, as she put it, may be "deporting democracy" through excessively stringent security requirements on those who want to visit this country.

"Because the young people who come here to learn in terms of college education go back home at the highest levels of their government, at the highest levels of the world of medicine or engineering, and they bring back what they saw of this wonderful experiment called democracy in America," McCaskill said.

Secretary Chertoff agreed. He said the government has made adjustments to the visa process. But he noted that a small minority can do a lot of damage, and that is why the visa process takes longer for everyone.