ABC News’ John R. Parkinson reports:
The threat of a home-grown terror attack has been the growing fear of law enforcement and intelligence officials and the aspiration of international terrorists since September 11th.
There are a number of recent high-profile examples of the danger posed by citizen-terrorists. Maj. Nidal Hassan is accused of killing 13 people and wounded 29 more at Fort Hood, Texas on Nov. 5, 2009. Explosives placed by Faisal Shahzad in an SUV in Times Square last May could have killed an estimated hundreds of tourists on that crowded Friday evening if the weapon of mass destruction had ignited. Five young Muslim men from Alexandria, Va. are sitting in a Pakistani prison after being convicted in Pakistan of plotting to join forces with the Taliban to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The men involved in each plot were American citizens, and all had alleged ties to al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual citizen of Yemen and the United States.
On Thursday, the House Committee on Homeland Security is set to convene the first in a series of controversial hearings targeting radicalization in the American Muslim community.
New York Republican Peter King, the chairman of the committee, wants to examine what he calls a “significant change in al Qaeda tactics and strategy” and its efforts to “radicalize and recruit from within our country.”
But opponents, such as Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking member of the Homeland Security committee, have criticized King as a modern-day Sen. Joe McCarthy for targeting a single religious community when there are other domestic threats such as neo-Nazis, violent opponents of abortion, animal testing, and environmental extremists that demand inspection as well.
King’s hearing has drawn intense scrutiny since he announced his intentions last December, but calls to expand the scope of the hearing intensified after the January shooting in Tucson, Arizona that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six of her constituents. The attack was allegedly carried out by Jared Lee Loughner, who is not Muslim.
“While I share your concern about the threat posed to our nation from violence borne of ideologically driven extremism, I believe that this Committee’s exploration of the current and emerging threat environment should be a broad-based examination of domestic extremist groups, regardless of their respective ideological underpinnings,” Thompson, D-Mississippi, wrote in a February letter urging King to broaden the scope of the hearing. “The ideology of a bomb maker matters less than the lethal effects of his creation.”
Days before the first session, King, R-NY, went to the airwaves to defend the narrow scope of the hearings.
“We're talking about the affiliates of al Qaeda who have been radicalizing, and there's been self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community, within a very small minority, but it's there. And that's where the threat is coming from at this time,” King, R-New York, told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday. “This is al Qaeda internationally; it's attempting to recruit within the United States. People in this country are being self-radicalized, whether it's Major Hasan or whether it's Shahzad or whether it was [Najibullah Zazi’s plot to bomb the subway system] in New York. These were all people who were identifying, in one way or another, with al Qaeda or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
Slated to appear before the committee are two of the House's own members, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, whose congressional district includes the homes of the co-called "DC Five Guys" in Alexandria, Va., and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, one of two Muslim members of Congress.
Melvin Bledsoe, whose son Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad killed one soldier and wounded another when he opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle on a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas, is also set to testify about his own son's radicalization.
Also confirmed to testify are Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, President and Founder, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Mr. Abdirizak Bihi, Director, Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center and Sheriff Leroy Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Tuesday, a broad coalition of law enforcement officials, civil liberties, religious and civic organizations will hold a conference call with reporters to call the hearings “divisive” and contend that the investigation would actually “make America less safe by undermining effective law enforcement.”
"The primary concern is that these hearings will feed an atmosphere of misinformation and mistrust, casting a wide net of suspicion on American Muslims and questioning their loyalty as Americans," Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, told ABC News last month. "Our concern essentially is the way Representative King talked about singling out one community, we find that highly problematic. It basically looks like his hearings will inevitably investigate First Amendment-protected expression and activities of a particular religious community, if the hearings are framed that way. It's wrong, divisive, and not a proper exercise of congressional authority."
But King told CNN that while “there's always going to be isolated incidents” of domestic terrorism such as Jared Loughner’s shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz. earlier this year, “radicalization is an international movement…which requires an investigation unto itself.”
“To be having investigations into every type of violence will be suggesting an equivalency that's not there,” King explained. “[Attorney General] Eric Holder is not saying he's staying awake at night because of what's coming from anti-abortion demonstrators or coming from environmental extremists or from neo-Nazis. It's the radicalization right now in the Muslim community.”