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Muslim groups target youths in anti-terror campaign

Official: 'Condemnation is not enough'

From Paul Courson
CNN

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Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society says condemning attacks "is not enough."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A coalition of U.S.-based Muslim groups launched an intensified anti-terrorism campaign Monday using community groups to persuade young people their religion provides no basis for violence.

The president of the Muslim American Society, Esam Omeish, told reporters at a news conference that his group rejects attacks such as those recently in Britain and Egypt, and will "deny terrorists any religious, ideological or political legitimacy."

He said the attacks bring the spotlight back to prevention, and that such efforts must go beyond surveillance and intelligence by law enforcement.

The Muslim groups said they would intensify an effort among community groups such as religious schools, youth centers and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America programs.

Responding to questions, Omeish and representatives of other organizations said they knew of no al Qaeda or Muslim terror groups in the United States.

"We know of no sleeper cells," Omeish said, attributing that in part to what he called the teaching of moderate, authentic Islam.

"What has protected our community far before 9/11 from extremism and violent ideology is that balanced mainstream advocacy of Islamic principles," Omeish said.

Imam Abu Malik-Johari, president of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations, condemned any killing motivated by anger or alienation.

"People who would go out and kill anyone, of any religion, from any country, of any age, for no reason other than the fact they are angry, isolated and upset is against God by whatever name you call," Johari said.

Johari, former Muslim chaplain of Howard University in Washington, told reporters he was at a mosque last weekend where he was approached by a young person who said someone had tried to "recruit" him.

He declined to identify the youth and did not say what the recruitment involved. He said he has never learned of any recruitment for al Qaeda in his community.

But using the case as an example of what the Muslim groups plan to do to pre-empt violence, Johari said he told the youth, "You need to alienate yourself from those people."

Johari said he told the young man: "They're saying to you that they're your friend, and that you'll be their confidant, when in reality, they're going to sell you out."

Some of those speaking at the news conference were critical of the Bush administration for not including Muslim leadership in counterterrorism activities, including efforts by law enforcement to keep tabs on Muslim groups in the United States.

"This Justice Department has engaged us from the back door, rather than the front door," said Imam Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society.

"Rather than spending all their energies in terms of recruiting spies and snitchers, they need to spend more time and more energy engaging the authentic Muslim leadership" in the United States, Bray said.

Police in London have said that four British Muslims were responsible for the July 7 bombings on London's transport system that killed 52 people and the bombers.

Moderate clerics have often issued appeals to reject radicalism after attacks blamed on Islamic extremists worldwide, but the London bloodshed raised the stakes within Islam for a more active role in challenging its fringe elements.

"Condemnation is not enough," Bray said. "As some people say, 'Been there, done that.' We're on a different page."

In the wake of the London attacks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Muslim leaders to discuss ways of tackling homegrown Islamic extremism.

Blair said the clerics, lawmakers and business leaders present shared a "strong desire" to "confront this evil ideology, take it on and defeat it by the force of reason." (Full story)

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