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Online Radicalization: What Should We Be Doing?

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Friday, April 18, 2014

As we commemorate one year since the Boston Marathon bombings, and 19 years since the bombing of the Murray building in Oklahoma City, we note that the risk of homegrown radicalization continues to threaten our nation.

Where do we stand today

The threat today comes primarily from individuals who are radicalized over the Internet, often inspired by al-Qaeda’s jihadist message. While these lone wolves might not be able to kill in mass numbers, the Boston Marathon bombings show that alienated persons influenced partially by online messaging can cause great damage. In light of the recent videos of the largest gathering of al-Qaeda in years, the threats are still very real.

What should we be doing?

In September 2013, the Bipartisan Policy Center published the first in a series of annual reports, Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment. The report provides a comprehensive view of the current capabilities of al-Qaeda and its affiliates as well as those of homegrown extremists who may target American interests. It also provides detailed recommendations for the legislative and executive branches on how best to counter these threats and protect the homeland.

Specific recommendations include:

For the Legislative Branch

  • creating an independent investigative body—similar to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)—to investigate terrorist attacks in the U.S., explain how the attackers evaded law enforcement, and identify the lessons to be learned;
  • overhauling Congressional oversight committees on national security;

For the Executive Branch

  • incorporating lessons learned from the Boston bombings into current emergency-response plans to ensure a more measured reaction to tragic but small-scale terrorist attacks;
  • repatriating some of the prisoners still being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and continuing to use civilian courts to try terrorists;
  • creating an Assistant Secretary for Countering Violent Extremism at the Department of Homeland Security;
  • releasing additional bin Laden documents captured at his Abbottabad compound;
  • emphasizing the strength of America’s institutions and social fabric, both in order to minimize the likelihood of panic or the exaggeration of the threat by the American public, and to demonstrate to terrorists that such attacks are not a strategic threat to the United States.

The next in the series of Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment is planned to be released in September 2014.

KEYWORDS: AL QAEDA, BOSTON, BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, GUANTANAMO BAY, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD, OKLAHOMA CITY