Fort Hood report can teach us about home-grown radicalisation

David Cameron today signalled a tougher stance on groups promoting Islamist extremism in a keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference; we look at the lessons to learn from the States.

The prime minister today signalled a tougher stance on groups promoting Islamist extremism in a keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference, a new direction welcomed by the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam; here, George Readings looks at what we can learn in this field from a report released this week into the Fort Hood shooting in the US

Since the July 7th attacks of 2005, great attention has been paid in Britain to the phenomenon of home-grown Islamist radicalisation. For example, according to one Wikileaks revelation reported in last night’s Evening Standard, a senior MI6 officer warned in 2008:

“…the internal threat is growing more dangerous because some extremists are conducting non-lethal training without ever leaving the country.

Should these extremists then decide to become suicide operatives, HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) intelligence resources, eavesdropping and surveillance would be hard pressed to find them on any ‘radar screen’.”

Further plots and the current review of the government’s strategy for preventing violent extremism have kept British policy-makers focused  on home-grown radicalisation. In America, however, attention was largely focused on the threat of foreign-born terrorists. The assumption was that, because American society was more integrated than European societies, domestic radicalisation was not an issue that America would face.

Nothing has done more to demolish this assumption than the case of Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people when he opened fire at Fort Hood military base in America in November 2009. Unsurprisingly, President Obama immediately announced an investigation into Hasan’s case.

The two senators who conducted the investigation, Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins, have now delivered their long-awaited report, and it makes for important reading for all countries facing home-grown radicalisation.

The report, entitled ‘A Ticking Time Bomb’, states:

“Although neither the Department of Defense nor the FBI had specific information concerning the time, place, or nature of the attack, they collectively had sufficient information to have detected Hasan’s radicalization to violent Islamist extremism but failed both to understand and to act on it.”

“Our investigation found specific and systemic failures in the government’s handling of the Hasan case and raises additional concerns about what may be broader systemic issues.”

This is an important finding for people concerned about home-grown radicalisation in the UK, where an increasingly voluble lobby is arguing that government counter-extremism policy should be narrowly focused on individuals who are engaged in terrorist activity.

Directly challenging this stance, the report specifically criticises an FBI inquiry on Hasan for focusing:

“…narrowly on whether [he] was engaged in terrorist activity – as opposed to whether he was radicalizing… and whether this radicalization might pose counterintelligence or other threats.”

The two senators powerfully make the case that home-grown terrorist attacks cannot be prevented by focusing purely on individuals who are know to be engaged in illegal activity; rather, they argue, there is a need to:

“…identify radicalization to violent Islamist extremism and to distinguish this ideology from the peaceful practice of Islam.”

The Lieberman-Collins report represents a major attempt to understand the complex phenomenon of home-grown radicalisation – policy-makers would be unwise to ignore its findings.

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