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Local Communities Join FBI in Preventing Home Grown Extremists

The Internet makes it easier to communicate ideas of all kinds - including the ideas of terrorists and other extremists. Here in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with community leaders to help prevent home-grown terrorism from spreading through the Web.

Sajjad Ahmad knows sports - and he knows these teens. He works with them at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society known as the ADAMS Center.

Ahmad says part of his job here is teaching the teens about the dangers of modern society - about drugs, crime and even the Internet. "It's a great resource, but you can also get yourself in trouble," he said.

Like when impressionable youth in search of a cause are influenced by extremist ideology.

"You don't have to get on an aircraft. You can get behind a keyboard that protects that individual that allows them to connect people around the world," said Brett Hovington, who is in charge of community relations at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Five Americans from the Washington area are accused of using the Internet to establish connections with militants in Pakistan, and now face terrorism charges.

In a separate case, an American woman is accused of recruiting men on the Internet to carry out terrorist acts.

Cases like these concern U.S. lawmakers.

"The Internet is a tool that is being used by terrorists to communicate, to recruit, to plan, to plot, to prepare, to train and to execute terror plots," said Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.

At a recent Congressional hearing about home grown terrorism, agent Hovington said forming close ties with local communities is key to preventing extremism.

"It's a challenge to identify a lone wolf, and that's one of the biggest challenges that we face, in almost next to impossible, without the help of communities and citizens that stand up and identify individuals," he said.

Hovington says one way of building trust is through one of the FBI's 56 Citizens' Academies in the U.S. The students represent a wide cross section of the community.

"There are a lot of negative perceptions about the FBI in the community," said Farooq Syed, president of the Adams Center.

Syed says attending the Citizens' Academy gives him a better understanding of the FBI and teaches him useful tips to bring back to his community.

"Some of the things I learned, after I attended this course, is no more laptops in the bedroom," he said. "The laptops are only in the kitchen where we can see what our kids are doing."

But having members from the community learn more about the FBI is just one part of the equation. Both citizens and agents agree, trust goes both ways.

"What I find is most of the time communities are more receptive when you don't go in knowing everything but when you ask them to be your partner, teach me your ways, teach me your customs," Hovington said.

Syed now wants to take his relationship with the FBI to the next level. "I have been promoting this partnership with FBI not at level of community, but also at the level of jobs," he said.

Syed is encouraging the youth at the ADAMS Center to consider careers with the FBI so that they can strengthen the Muslim community's ties with law enforcement.