Archive for Friday, December 11, 2009

A parent’s dilemma: a child with ties to terrorism

December 11, 2009

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6 Americans questioned

Pakistan — Five young American Muslims detained in Pakistan wanted to join militants in the country’s Taliban-ruled tribal region, battle U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan and die as martyrs, police officials said Thursday.

The men initially tried to contact jihadist groups in Pakistan via YouTube and other Web sites, then traveled to Pakistan to attempt personal meetings, said the police chief in this eastern Pakistani city, Usman Anwar.

One of their fathers was also detained when police raided two locations this week in Sargodha, a city on the main road to the Afghan border region that is home to a major air force base and is known as a hotbed of militant activity.

The young men, aged 19 to 25, were reported missing from the Washington, D.C., area more than a week ago after their families found a farewell video showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.

The detentions are another worrisome sign that Americans may be susceptible to recruitment to terrorist networks from within the United States. It comes on the heels of charges against a Chicago man of Pakistani origin who is accused of plotting the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

Yet in contrast to the Chicago case, police say the five captured in Pakistan failed to catch on with any terror network, and succeeded only in raising suspicions among locals, who reported them to Pakistani police.

— It’s a dilemma no parent wants to face — fearing a son or daughter may be mixed up in terrorism, wondering whether to turn in a loved one.

It was Washington-area parents who helped authorities find the young American Muslims arrested in Pakistan this week and parents in Minnesota who contacted the FBI last year with fears that their sons had gone off to Somalia to fight.

In other cases, parents and other relatives have been in denial about a child’s activities, or worse, perhaps even played a role in turning them toward violent extremism or crime.

The five American men taken into custody in Pakistan this week were hardly children. They ranged in age from 19 to 25. One was a dental student at Howard University.

They disappeared in November without telling their families. After watching what was described as a disturbing farewell video from one of the men, the families contacted the FBI.

“The families never could have anticipated this,” said their lawyer, Nina Ginsberg. “They had no reason to suspect they were involved in anything.”

Ginsberg said the families were not ready to speak publicly about it.

Parents increasingly are reaching out to authorities for help when they think their children may be involved in terrorism, said Charlie Allen, formerly the top intelligence official at the Homeland Security Department. But he said it’s not happening often enough.

Although parents these days are more familiar with terrorism matters than they were 10 years ago, discussions about jihad and the like still are more likely to happen among friends than between a parent and child.

Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer, says the parents are often the last to know — “a little bit like heroin addicts.”

Sageman said many parents reflexively defend their children and say, “No, no, my son did not do that.” Some may insist the government is making things up.

It’s a new twist on an old story: children who have a secret life that parents aren’t aware of, especially as they get older and establish more independence, said Peter Langman, director of psychology for KidsPeace, a national children’s charity that helps kids with emotional issues, and the author of the book, “Why Kids Kill.”

It becomes increasingly difficult as the children get older to keep tabs on them, Langman said.

This week’s arrests in Pakistan echo a case from a year ago, in which about 20 young men, most of Somali descent, vanished from their homes in Minnesota and surfaced in Somalia. Authorities believe the young men were recruited by terrorists in Somalia and persuaded to join the jihad.

Some parents didn’t report the matter directly to the FBI, but went instead to local police to file missing persons reports soon after their loved ones vanished. Others waited weeks, sometimes months, before contacting the FBI with their concerns. A third group of parents made no reports at all, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case.

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