At a mosque in northern Virginia in early December, Muslim leaders couldn't believe what they'd heard. "mustafa abu maryim" I hope it's not what it seems to be," said Mustafa Abu Maryim.
Five young Muslim American men were jailed in Pakistan, suspected by Pakastani authorities of planning terrorist attacks. "It really is a turning point in the history of American Muslims," says Dr. Khalid Qazi of Buffalo.
A turning point because the radicalization of Muslim youth in America has become a clear threat to the nation. Qazi heads the WNY Muslim Public Affairs Council. " I feel it's the responsibility of all Muslims, American Muslims to speak out against it," he says.
9/11 seemed unbelievable at first. "I can't believe this happened," said a young Muslim-Americans I spoke with three days later outside the Lackawanna mosque. Another, older, man said, "What happens to anyone in America, it happens to us."
A year later, the arrest of the Lackawanna Six seemed unbelievable to some. "Denial," says Qazi, "or hey, it's not possible. but once you see the facts, you have to realize what has happened."
The six, young Lackawanna men were recruited in Lackawanna in face-to-face meetings with radicals in the city where they lived.
"Today," says Qazi,," the clergy are vigilant, they are giving sermons against that radicalization." But it was a wakeup call, especially in Lackawanna.
Flash forward six years to just over a year ago, and terrorism hits home in tragic fashion here in the Steel City.
September 17th, 2008: A suicide bomber and gunmen attack the US embassy in Yemen. Sixteen people are killed.
Among them, 18-year-old Susan Elbaneh of Lackawanna. She had gone to Yemen for an arranged marriage. Her fiancee was also killed. "Those culprits did not differentiate between Muslim and non-Muslim, and it's about time all Muslims realize what a price we are paying., and we can't take it anymore," says Qazi.
And something else about the killing of Susan Elbaneh. The FBI says she was related to Jaber Elbaneh, often referred to as the seventh member of the Lackawanna Six.
James Robertson, Special Agent in Charge of the Buffalo FBI, tells 2 On Your Side Jaber Elbaneh is in Yemen.
In March 2008, Elbaneh walked out of a courtroom in Yemen and nobody stopped him.
U.S. officials say they consider Yemen a bastion for al Qaeda, but Qazi says,"There is growing opposition to it, people are rising against it."
One of those taking a stand was Muslim cleric Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi of Pakistan. He spoke out against the Taliban. In early June, he was killed by a suicide bomber.
"There is a big risk, especially outside the United States, for people when they come out so openly," Qazi says. But in the U.S. especially, Muslims are speaking out.
In early December, Mustafa Abu Maryim told a news conference at the Virginia mosque,"We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our children through slick, seductive and destructive propaganda on the internet."
Qazi adds, "Cyberspace these days is full of these sites that really spew venom. In the privacy of your room you could be doing anything. and I think that is something that we really have to address very aggressively."
But Robertson of the FBI counters that there are too many jihadist sites to monitor. "You could close one down and it's going to come up tomorrow," he says. Robertson says what law eforcement can't do, parents can and should do.
"Parents have to be engaged and have to understand what their kids are involved in." It was, in fact, the father of the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner who reported his son's suspicious behavior. And it was the parents of one of the five men arrested in Pakistan who contacted the FBI through a community group about their concerns.
"I think our parents in Muslim communities have become very well sensitive to this issue, very aware of this," Qazi says.
Jihad has grown from a personal sales pitch by traveling recruiters, in the case of the Lackawanna Six, to the virtual marketing of murder on a global scale through the Internet.
"You need a level of trust within the community," says Robertson, "where the parents are concerned, and are willing to bring that information to the FBI. That is critical for us."
But what happens when Federal authorities get that information and ignore it? The father warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria about his son's possible involvement with jihad. But Qazi notes, "That information over a period of six weeks did not get to where it needed to be."
Qazi took part in a conference call on Wednesday with Federal authorities on homeland security.
"We are ready, willing to work with law enforcement," he said. "There is this culture of death in certain youth that has to be replaced with an ideology of life. I don't think there's only one peg to this solution, but we all have to work together to nail this evil."
WGRZ / wgrz.com