July 17, 2019 | 92° F

Rutgers Emergency Preparedness Institute hosts global terror summit

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Christopher Rodriguez, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security, said the Islamic State group is using Twitter extensively to radicalize people living in Western countries. The general public is needed to help ensure terrorists are unable to successfully recruit citizens in these countries.

Being prepared for emergencies is important, but knowing how to prevent them could be even more so.

On Jan. 20, law enforcement and homeland security professionals gathered to discuss how to better protect faith-based communities and disenfranchised individuals from the attacks and radicalization, respectively.

Last summer, the Institute of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security (IEPHS) embarked on an international project aimed at addressing the issue of mass casualty attacks directed at communities of faith, said John Cohen, senior advisor at the Institute. Since then the project has evolved.

“We’ve begun to learn that these individuals were not so much organized and identifiable based on their motive, but more so based on their psychological and life experience profile,” he said. “There are people in our population … who are becoming increasingly vulnerable and susceptible to social media campaign used by groups like (the Islamic State group).”

In addition to their efforts on other social media platforms, the Islamic State group puts out 9,000 tweets per day from 46,000 accounts aimed at radicalizing the citizens of the U.S. and various European nations, said Christopher Rodriguez, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

These at-risk individuals run the risk of becoming homegrown violent extremists (HVEs), said supervisory Special Agent James Green of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“They’re self-radicalized,” Green said. “They actually reach out online and look for radicalization rather than being targeted by (the Islamic State group) or radicalized overseas.”

HVEs pose a new problem for the intelligence community, Green said. Because they do not travel to conflict regions like Syria, they circumvent traditional intelligence gathering methods.

In response, Rodriguez said local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have started collaborating on programs aimed at educating the public on the detection of HVEs.

“In this threat environment the public is often our first line of defense,” Rodriguez said. “What this means is that we need to be constantly pushing unclassified threat intelligence to the public.”

Like the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” program, the program aims to increase detection of HVEs by using the public as an intelligence gathering resource.

“It’s more than just 'see something, say something,'” Cohen said. “We’ve done a pretty good job telling people to 'see something, say something.'”

Localities are attempting to educate citizens on what to look for, and are working on building the trust necessary for someone to report a friend or family member, Cohen said.

Radicalization as a result of an extremist ideology, perceived grievance or mental illness can take place in a matter of four to six months, Cohen said. During this process, HVEs will often be observed posting extremist material, but will not be reported.

“Local jurisdictions are also working with their mental health community educators and the faith communities, so when some suspicious circumstances or suspicious behaviors are reported, they have the ability to assess the risk posed by that individual,” Cohen said.

Not everyone who speaks or acts in an extreme way is at risk of going down the path to violence, he said.

In addition to increasing detection, the Institute and the FBI want to provide active shooter training to civilians, he said.

“There’s been a lot of behavioral research done that shows there’s an actual psychology to being a victim,” Green said. “When average people are placed in a situation that they don’t understand and they don’t have a framework for, they do nothing.”

The training would teach citizens how to reach safety or intervene in the case of an active-shooter event, Green said.

“They talk about it on airplanes. ‘Leave your belongings in the airplane,’” Green said. “They tell you that because you can get so fixated on the minutiae, ‘I have to find my pocket bag,’ that you sit in an airplane while it burns."

The flow of asylum-seekers into Europe also poses a problem for the intelligence community, both in the U.S. and in Europe, said Sean Griffin, Faith-Based Communities Security Program collaborator and former Europol counterterrorism senior specialist.

“Last year, on average, 1,000 immigrants per day entered the EU through the Greece area,” Griffin said. “One thousand per day. How on earth do we pick the one person we need to find?”

The answer lies in community engagement, he said. Community awareness would be the key to stopping acts of terrorism.

“We should not put fear into those communities. It’s about being alert rather than alarmed … It’s about community cohesion, it’s about community resilience," he said. “The heart of any success in countering terrorism is the relationship between the police and the public … At the end of the day, it’s the communities that will defeat terrorism.”

Nikita Biryukov

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