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White House Outlines Plan Against 'Homegrown' Extremist Threats

The Obama administration on Thursday released an implementation plan for intensified efforts to counter so-called "homegrown" violent extremism in the United States.

The 20-page report is called the Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. It describes specific steps to strengthen and expand cooperation with officials in communities across the country that might be targeted by violent extremists.

President Barack Obama signed off on the overall national strategy to fight violent extremism last August. The implementation plan comes six months after a broader National Strategy for Counterterrorism that discussed threats from al-Qaida followers, who it noted sometimes are U.S. citizens, engaged in terrorism such as the 2009 shootings at the Fort Hood, Texas military base.

The implementation plan says countering violent extremism and terrorism inspired by al-Qaida, its affiliates and its adherents is a top priority. It notes that other forms of violent extremism will not be ignored, and mentions as an example the attacks in Norway in July, saying, "free societies face threats from a range of violent extremists."

The plan lists steps to identify communities that might be targeted by violent extremists for recruitment and radicalization, and links them with federal, state and local anti-terrorism efforts. A task force of senior officials from across government is to support the plan, along with more analysis to be shared by those needing it, and increased training for law enforcement officials.

The plan also emphasizes the importance of countering what it calls violent extremist "propaganda" and increasing the capacity of communities to "directly challenge violent extremist ideologies and narratives."

It commits the government to expand efforts to raise public awareness about radicalization, including regular briefings to Congress, research organizations and the media, and an Internet website as part of a comprehensive strategy to counter and prevent "violent extremist online radicalization."

The White House plan says this will require "careful consideration of a number of legal issues" related to free speech rights of Americans under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Initial reaction came from the co-chairs of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Republican Susan Collins.

In a statement, they said the plan takes positive steps, but that "much more needs to be done and at a far faster pace, given the threat." They voiced disappointment that the Obama administration did not designate a single agency to coordinate operations, and with the administration's "refusal to identify violent Islamist extremism as our enemy."

Senator Lieberman spoke this on Wednesday during a joint hearing of Senate and House committees, examining threats from homegrown terrorists to military communities in the United States. "Our government has to recognize at some point who the enemy is and call it by its exact name. The enemy is not a vague catchall of violent extremism, but a specific violent Islamist extremism and an exploitation and corruption, I would say, of the religion of Islam," he said.

President Obama did not issue a statement to accompany the release of the implementation plan. But the document contains a quote from him in August in which he committed the government to preventing "all types of extremism that leads to violence, regardless of who inspires it."