On Edge, Minority Communities and Law Enforcement Beef Up Security Following Terror Attacks

On Edge, Minority Communities and Law Enforcement Beef Up Security Following Terror Attacks

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DEARBORN — The Western world seems to be in a frenzy following a string of terror attacks that rocked Europe.

On Monday, Dec. 19, an off-duty Turkish police officer assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey while the ambassador gave a speech.

"Don't forget Aleppo," he shouted as he shot the ambassador in the back.

That afternoon in Germany, a suspected Tunisian asylum-seeker smashed his truck through a crowd at a Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring dozens more – just a week after the country deported 50 rejected Afghan asylum seekers.

Later that same day, a Swiss man went on a shooting rampage at a mosque in Zurich, Switzerland. He severely injured six worshippers and took later took his own life.

The next day, ISIS claimed responsibility for a shootout at a tourist destination in southern Jordan, in which 10 people, including a Canadian tourist, were killed.

The acts of terror come amid fear that refugees from terror-stricken lands entering counties like the United States could exploit the resettlement gesture and commit acts of terrorism here at home.

In August, Sebastian Gregerson of Detroit, a self-described gun enthusiast, landed on the FBI's radar after a tipster claimed he had bazookas and grenades. He boasted of attacks and stockpiled deadly weapons, including AK-47s, thousands of rounds of ammunition, machetes, hatchets and grenades.

Court documents said he visited an outdoors store in Dearborn and bought a long-barreled firearm with a barrel that folds upward and back, reducing the length of the weapon and making it easier to conceal.

"Boomerang effect"

In Michigan, efforts to ban refugees from residing in neighborhoods were quelled and are symbolic at best, although the anti-immigrant sentiments prevail among many.

The southeast part of the state is home to one the largest Arab and Muslim American populations in the country. As hate crimes against monitories reach an all-time high nationally, many community members say the rise in terrorism keeps them on edge.

Arab American advocacy organizations, religious institutions and schools are collaborating with local, state and federal law enforcement to gear up against retaliation and local attacks.

Sheikh Ibrahim Kazerooni, a leader at the Islamic Center of America, the county's largest mosque, told The AANews the ICA is pursing initiatives to strengthen the security of its parameters with obvious measures like adding more security personnel, cameras and alarms.

Most effectively, however, is a closer relationship and ongoing dialogue with law enforcement about their concerns, he added.

"Discussion should be part of the process," Kazerooni said. "We should not wait until we are confronted with a calamity and discuss these issues during time of peace."

As long as the current U.S. foreign policy continues, the source of a great deal of radicalization will remain, he added.

He also said the ramifications in the countries are partly a, "Western failure to understand their deed in what they did in Syria. It is a boomerang effect."

However, in the U.S., community centers should be more concerned about "lone wolves," said Muzammil Ahmed, chairman of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, the most prominent coalition of Islamic groups and institutions in the state.

As "the number of hate crimes have shot up astronomically in the last few months", Ahmed said ethnic communities and mosques are in talks to determine the best security practices and organize beefed up protection systems.

The group has set up a program to assist in applying for grants for security enhancement and a crisis response team and will train local community centers and schools in making sure they take appropriate safety precautions.

Yet to be announced, its largest project will be a security summit.

Aside from the basics, like installing more cameras and alarms, the MMCC aims to designate a dedicated security liaison for each location involved and ensure they are familiar with most who enter the buildings, Ahmed said.

Ahmed attributed radicalism to isolation, feelings of not belonging to a community and lack of accountability.

"If you look at the people involved [in crimes], they are very disconnected from their community, isolated or bullied," he said. He added once they become radicalized online, it becomes difficult to turn back.

That is why the MMCC advocates for robust youth outreach program, providing healthy outlets to let youths express themselves and understand their faith.


The programs also provide ways for anxious individuals to protect themselves against hate crime attacks.
Mikail Stewart Saadiq, the MMCC's outreach director, said that includes self-defense classes. They are in such a surge in demand that the courses are full and many are on waiting lists, he said.

It teaches men and women martial art techniques, like what to do when someone tries to snatch a woman's headscarf.

We've seeing more anxiety," Saadiq said. "More people are wanting to be reassured. Sometimes the hyperbole put out in the media frightens Muslim Americans. The last thing they would want to do is to be labeled as suspicious. Now you are being made a target."

As someone who wears the hijab and is a person of color, Asha Noor, a local Somali American activist, is not a stranger to the discriminatory sentiments born from fear.

Micro aggressions, racial slurs and remaining vigilant at all times have always been part of hers and her family's daily life, she said.

What's new, however, is the changing tone and reflected vigilance the community centers are taking, Noor said.

She pointed to emerging national programs that provide funds to facilitate protection of religious institutions.

In her involvement in those discussions, she said there are "back-door" initiatives by mosques – separate from police – to fortify their buildings and congregants.

State Police vigilant

In response to recent terror attacks, state police are a vital piece to larger national security puzzle watching for potential extremist activity.

Lt. Mike Shaw of the Michigan State Police (MSP) told The AANews that local police departments increase patrol visibility in neighborhoods and mosques. State cops man areas with no local police presence and at airports.

Shaw said the MSP closely monitors attacks worldwide, with the help of tools like the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center, which is part of the state's Fusion Center. These centers, part of the Department of Homeland Security, have been implemented in every state. The centers bridge the intelligence gaps between local, state and federal departments with information about suspects and dangerous activity.

He added that the MSP also monitors social media, but that the communities are at the front lines of preventing hate crimes and terror attacks in their towns.

"A lot of times terrorists will try to make game plan before an attack," Shaw said.

That could mean seeing someone take a lot of photographs, asking weird questions and watching planes fly over religious centers.

He encouraged anyone with suspicions to call 911, but said many are hesitant to do so.

"Some people push it under the rug," Shaw said. They think nothing is going to happen and nobody is
going to be held responsible."

But he assured that the MSP investigates all hate crimes.

Federal countering extremism

State and local law enforcement cooperation is appreciated, but Noor and many other minorities are critical of federal programs that claim to fight extremism.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in July its Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant Program, the first federal grant funding available to non-profits, mental health professionals and schools to address the root causes of violent extremism and deter individuals who may already be radicalizing to violence.

Noor charged that the CVE's "If you see something, say something" highly controversial initiative, targeted at minority communities, is rooted in prejudiced beliefs that Muslims and Arabs are inherently violent people.

She added that a federal program asking individuals to report suspicious and criminal activity to law enforcement is common sense, but spending millions of taxpayer money bolstering an "unsuccessful" program used to surveil her family and others, is unconstitutional.

Ahmed of the MMCC said the controversy around these programs is understandable, but cautioned against distrusting agencies that want to collaborate to ensure their safety.

"As the Muslim community does not like to be stereotyped, we have to be careful not to stereotype all law enforcement," he said.

He added that the federal agencies remain accountable for the negative perceptions they create about the initiatives.

David Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit's office, told The AANews he rejects the criticism that the programs are designed to target minority communities.

"I think it is absolutely essential for a community to stay alert in our environment," he said.

Gelios said the FBI investigates home-grown violent extremism in every state and the Joint Terrorist Task Force helps agencies nationwide look into threats collaboratively.

Gelios said terrorism threats are more significant in Europe, but when they occur, his office notices a brief spike in local reports of suspicious activity.

Although ISIS has put out calls for lone wolves to conduct simple and sophisticated attacks in the U.S., Gelios said the FBI is not currently dealing with direct threats during the holidays or at high visibility events.

He nonetheless emphasized the importance that Arab American communities and law enforcement maintain ongoing routine discussions about their concerns.

He lauded Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity (BRIDGES) as model for the nation for frank discourse between government agencies and local leaders and address the backlash against the Arab Americans in southeast Michigan.

In a joint statement with U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, Gelios reaffirmed their commitment to take hate crimes seriously.

"In addition to harm to a victim or damage done to a victim's property, hate crimes are meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community," he said. "The FBI won't stand by idly when hate crimes are committed."

In April, FBI Director James Comey visited Detroit with a message to keep cool about terrorism.

"Please, don't freak out," Comey said at a news conference. "That's exactly what these savages want you to do."