Friday, August 06, 2004

FBI counterterrorism agent: U.S. is fighting religious war

By BILLY BRUCE, Staff Writer
Naples Eagle
August 4, 2004

The battle against worldwide terrorism doesn't involve the Cold War strategies once used to stop the communist takeover of the world.

The country is facing a different enemy this time, but one that has similar aspirations, an FBI counterterrorism expert contends.

A small portion of Muslims believes America is an evil empire that must fall so that the world can live the Islamic way of life, Special Agent Michael DeLeon told the Marco Police Foundation on July 28.

DeLeon, a specialist in the FBI's Fort Myers regional office, said the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Justice had to restructure and reorganize after the Sept. 11 attacks brought the extremists' war to American soil.

"These people do not think of greed as a motive, but religion," DeLeon said during his presentation to the nonprofit group at the Radisson Suite Beach Resort on Marco Island. "Their belief is that we are an empire — like the Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire — and that we will fall as did those empires.

And then they will impose the Islamic way of life on us."

Most Muslims in the world don't support the extremists' call for Islamic jihad, or holy war, against the United States, DeLeon said.

"Ninety-five percent of the people are good people, but it's that 5 percent who are bad," he said.

FBI agents are learning the tenets of the Muslim faith by studying the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to understand the breadth of the worldwide threat of radical Muslim extremists, DeLeon said.

The agents also are integrating new communication channels with local law enforcement agencies, airport security, the Coast Guard, regional terrorism task forces and any other entity that needs to share information that will ultimately help the FBI achieve its new mission, he said.

The FBI still goes after most wanted criminals and fights corruption and white-collar crime, but now that radical Muslims are bringing the war to U.S.

soil, DeLeon said, the main mission is to prevent their success.

"Our mission is to detect and deter terrorism acts," he said.

DeLeon showed the luncheon attendees a short film on the war against terrorism, which documented several historical moments. The former Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan was the "ad hoc" beginning of radical Muslims' strategy to start a holy war against the United States, DeLeon said.

He named several active terrorist groups the FBI is watching, including the Iran-based Hizballah, the Palestinian Hamas in Israel and, of course, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida.

Asked whether the FBI uses racial profiling, since all 19 terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were Arabs, DeLeon said, "That's a political issue. Do we profile? We would like to look for things that would tip us off to something that might involve terrorism."

Keeping an eye on Southwest Florida International Airport keeps the FBI's Fort Myers office busy, DeLeon said.

There is a "no fly" list of people who are suspected as either supporters of terrorism or actual terrorists, he said.

"If we're contacted by the airport because they saw a name like Mohammed Aberjan, and that name was on the 'no fly' list, we'd go to the airport and interview him," DeLeon said. "It might be that he's not the same Mohammed Aberjan on the list.

If he missed his flight because of the interruption, we'd book him on the next flight out, but not until we've made sure everyone is safe."

Keeping an eye on local activity is critical to the FBI's "detect and deter" mission, DeLeon said.

The controversial Patriot Act is helping the FBI and other agencies find potential terrorists, and it is a necessary tool to detect potential attacks before they can be carried out, DeLeon said.

"It helps us figure out who is associated with these many groups," he said. "Don't forget — there's no hiding the fact that all 19 of the Sept. 11 terrorists came through (Florida).

Mohammed Atta stayed in Fort Myers and tried to purchase an airplane in Belle Glade. The others trained in Venice. We all need to be vigilant. Freedom isn't free."

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