Local communities around the country are best suited to take on the challenge of combatting the kind of violent extremism that inspires people to kill, the Obama administration concludes in a new national plan to fight the threat of al-Qaida and other violent radicals at home.
And although al-Qaida and like-minded groups pose the "most significant and direct" threat to the U.S., the strategy focuses on violent extremism of all varieties because violent ideologies change over time and "new threats will undoubtedly arise in the future," according to an unclassified draft of the strategy obtained by The Associated Press. It is expected to be released Wednesday.
The eight-page plan, more than a year in the making, is short on specifics and stakes out no new ground on the thorny issue of homegrown terrorism. It repeats many of President Barack Obama's past statements and in parts is quite similar to a document President George W. Bush's administration produced five years ago.
"The United States government will work tirelessly to counter support for violent extremism and to ensure that, as new violent groups and ideologies emerge, they fail to gain a foothold in our country," the strategy says. "Achieving this aim requires that we all work together _ government, communities, the private sector, the general public, and others _ to develop effective programs and initiatives."
In 2006 the Bush administration wrote, "Success in this ideological struggle demands that we explain more effectively our values, ideals, policies, and actions internationally and support moderate voices willing to confront extremists and discredit radicals."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The psychological aspects of radicalization have been studied for years, and while there are some similarities among terrorism cases, there is not a single profile of a violent extremist in the U.S. Complicating the challenge is that the threat is often rooted in an ideology protected by the Constitution.
Americans are now a targeted audience for recruitment to radical causes and not just a target for attack. English-speaking radical Islamic clerics appeal to Westerners on the Internet and recruit Americans to join their holy war. The need to travel to terror camps in faraway places has diminished now that there are instructions for how to carry out an attack that are easily available online.
The Obama administration strategy points to federal outreach programs by the Homeland Security and Justice departments and the FBI that have been initiated since the 2001 terror attacks. It also refers to the nation's approach to countering criminal gangs as a model to embrace for countering violent extremism, involving police, schools, probation officers, youth agencies, government and local grass-roots organizations.
The strategy includes broad statements about protecting civil rights, American values and the importance of partnerships with local stakeholders and the private sector. The federal government's job is to act in a support role, it said, bringing people together and sharing information about threats and concerns and "community-based solutions."
"While there is no shortage of ideas about the causes and implications of radicalization in the public conversation, what is generally lacking are proposals for specific action the government or American citizens can take to combat radicalization," said Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., during a congressional hearing last week on ways to address and combat the threat.
One of Myrick's former constituents is a young man, Samir Khan, who is now believed to be in Yemen working with al-Qaida and recruiting Westerners to the cause.
Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.