- Justice Department effort will try to involve community to spot radicalization early on
- Program will reach out to social services and mental health workers
- More than a dozen Americans are believed to have joined ISIS
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday announced a Justice Department program to try to thwart recruitment by extremist groups such as ISIS, attempting to involve social and mental health workers as well as religious leaders and police to spot radicalization early.
This effort is an outgrowth of existing community outreach programs that in recent years have linked Justice Department prosecutors, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security with imams and local organizations hoping to prevent young people from joining terror groups.
Despite those efforts, authorities say more than 100 Americans have traveled in recent years to join groups involved in the Syrian civil war. More than a dozen are believed to have joined ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.
The FBI and other agencies are grappling with trying to track those who not only support radical groups online but also help recruit and try to travel to join the fight.
The Obama administration says the new program will reach out to social services and mental health workers to help spread what is known about extremist groups' recruitment methods. The idea is not only to counteract recruitment but also to encourage local community intervention efforts before law enforcement has to pursue possible prosecution.
"We have established processes for detecting American extremists who attempt to join terror groups abroad," Holder said in a video message posted on the Justice Department's website.
"And we have engaged in extensive outreach to communities here in the U.S. -- so we can work with them to identify threats before they emerge, to disrupt homegrown terrorists and to apprehend would-be violent extremists. But we can -- and we must -- do even more."
A U.S. official said one of the first such places expected to be part of the new program is Minneapolis, where in recent years young people have been recruited to join the Islamist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and more recently Syrian Islamist rebel groups.
The Justice Department has worked with local religious and community groups to help provide support when those communities face discrimination while using those contacts to find out when there are concerns about radicalization.
However, in recent years, some imams and family members have complained about the heavy law enforcement response when they contact officials to express concern about specific members of their community.
The U.S. efforts are similar to those done in the UK and other countries, which have sought to remove counter-radicalization efforts away from the focus of law enforcement.