Predicting the next terrorist attack and who will be behind it is complicated, but a national program with deep roots in the city of Los Angeles is at the forefront of trying to find a way to stop acts of terror before they happen.
“It's just proven there's no predictor,” Salam Al-Marayati from the Muslim Public Affairs Council said.
He is among a local group who recently went to Washington D.C. for President Obama’s three day summit on Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE. The national strategy was developed to bring together local community groups, specifically but not limited to Muslim organizations, with law enforcement.
“It’s about having that open conversation, as we like to call it, safe place,” he said.
Islamic terrorists are actively recruiting young people using images in ISIS training videos and social media.
“The fact that they’re putting out 90,000 messages a day on things like Twitter, that resonates,” said Erroll Southers, Director of Transition & Research Deployment at the University of Southern California, or CREATE.
“ISIS is doing that. That’s how they’re getting to our kids,” added Anila Ali, community activist and schoolteacher.
Activists said the greatest resource in this fight may be happening at the neighborhood level.
“We do have to have a community that understands the change, and the risk reduction only happens if they do it,” Southers said.
Southers works with the CVE program and has done extensive research within Somali communities in Minnesota. He admits there is mistrust of strangers and law enforcement, but the community relationship is imperative.
“It’s the only element of this whole radicalization process that we can control,” Southers said.
Countries around the world are developing counterterrorism plans. The United Kingdom is looking to identify terrorist behavior in preschool. Here in the United States, a rating system would look at a person’s emotional state and other factors to predict extremist tendencies.
The Los Angeles Police Department pioneered CVE, the relationship building program, several years back. It is one that LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing admits began badly.
“It was kind of a failure with the mapping initiative that we have,” Downing said.
He adds the process involved mapping where people of certain backgrounds lived, targeting Arab and Muslim neighborhoods, and perhaps most offensive to local Muslims, sending informants into mosques. While informants are still used, the LAPD said it realized there was not enough trust in the community and reverted to grass roots outreach.
The revised dynamic to fight terror encourages communities to drive the conversation of how and when to intervene.
“It's about building trust and teaching communities about how to access government,” Downing said. “You cannot blend intelligence and CVE work together."
While reporting criminal activity is appropriate, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) believes some government programs are too broad and encourage anti-Muslim sentiment.
In a statement, CAIR said in part, “while we are united with the government in our desire to protect our nation’s security and liberties, we are not convinced that government-led Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs, such as the initiative announced in September 2014, are the most effective use of public resources.”
The statement adds, the White House’s strategic plan on CVE was released in December 2011.
“It’s not about people. It's about the behavior that people exhibits and that's what we want to profile,” Downing said.
Those behind CVE said there is a greater need to eliminate stereotypes of who is turning to terror.
“It can be a blue-eyed, blonde-haired teenage girl,” Downing added.
According to a study by Fordham Law School’s Center on National Security, most potential terrorists are Caucasian. After a review of people charged with supporting ISIS, they found that three of 40 were of Arab descent.
Still, perception is powerful, and misunderstanding can be detrimental.
That is why the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City has opened its doors to law enforcement.
Mahomed Khan invited the FBI to one Friday prayer to speak with the faithful. He said he has seen the benefits of a relationship with law enforcement: A plot to bomb the mosque was foiled several years ago.
“If they weren’t doing their jobs, this mosque would have been history,” Khan said. “That’s why the relationship has to be very straight forward and open."