Ex-FBI Agent: Detroit Kids Could Be Radicalized By ISIS

Even though homicide poses a greater risk to the city's children.

The potential for disenfranchised kids in Detroit to be radicalized by terrorist groups poses a “huge threat” to the city, a former FBI official said last week.

Andy Arena, executive director of the Detroit Crime Commission and former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit bureau, spoke about the threat of terrorism at the Faith-Based Call to Action Forum on Violence, an event held at Second Ebenezer Church and organized by local officials and the police department.

Arena said groups like al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, are finding new members in other countries, including the United States.

“They’re targeting young, disenfranchised kids,” he said at the event, footage of which the city of Detroit provided to The Huffington Post. “Do we got a few of those in Detroit? They’re the same kids that the gangs are targeting.”

Terrorists sometimes recruit people through social media, with no in-person trainings or meetings required. It’s a strategy Arena, whose nonprofit partners with law enforcement agencies to reduce crime, called “slick.”

“If you don’t have a future, if you’ve got no chance at a job, and you’re sitting in your basement, and you’re disenfranchised, all you’ve got do is go online,” he said. “You can become radicalized. You can go out and launch an attack and make your name. So, it is a threat here in the city of Detroit. It’s a huge threat.” 

The Islamic State group also relies on social media platforms to spread terrorist propaganda that urges followers to target the police and military, The Associated Press reports. The strategy calls for smaller-scale, individualist attacks that are more difficult for authorities to detect.

Arena also addressed domestic terrorism, referencing the racially charged killing of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month.

“That could happen in Detroit in a heartbeat,” he said.  

Arena’s call to action preceded Thursday’s shootings at military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that left four Marines, one sailor and alleged gunman Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez dead. The motive for the killings has not been identified, but they are being investigated as possible acts of terrorism, the AP reports. 

While Arena said he was not specifically talking about Detroit’s large Arab-American population or economic disenfranchisement, Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he thought Arena’s comments fed into stereotypes about the city’s Muslim residents.

“To say, because we have a lot of Muslims here and there’s a bad economy automatically translates to the potential for radicalism is unscientific and, quite frankly, irresponsible,” Walid told HuffPost.

 Being disenfranchised “doesn’t mean that anyone joins a gang, much less an extremist organization abroad,” he added. “That type of thought process is part of the problem.”  

NBC News describes the typical profile of radicalized Westerners as “young, male thrill junkies, craving purpose, glory, camaraderie and a fresh identity” who “hunger for significance, even infamy.”

Several dozen people in the United States have been charged with supporting terrorism this year, according to the AP. But many civic leaders at last week’s call to action were more focused on violent crime in Detroit than terrorism, particularly young offenders and victims. In 2010, homicide was the leading killer for Detroit kids ages 1 to 18

Last week, a drive-by shooting injured four people, including a 1-year-old boy. Twenty-one people were shot at four different block parties during a two-week period in June, and one person died. Several of the victims were identified as teenagers. Also last month, a 15-year-old girl was sexually assaulted on her way to school while walking alone because her usual partner had been killed by a car the night before.  

Except for gun violence, crime is decreasing, Mayor Mike Duggan said last month following a weekend during which 27 people were shot. Detroit Police Department Deputy Chief Renee Hall told the audience at Second Ebenezer Church that robberies and carjackings are down. She also noted that officers are responding to calls more quickly, and that there are 70 more officers on the streets now than there were a year-and-a-half ago. 

“But none of those numbers mean anything to you until you truly feel safe in this community,” she said.

Also on HuffPost: 

Chattanooga Shooting