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L.A. part of new federal effort to deter homegrown jihadists

Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, is believed to have been killed in Syria while reportedly there to fight alongside a terrorist group.
( Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff’s Office / Associated Press)

Los Angeles is one of three cities in which the Obama administration has launched pilot programs aimed at deterring U.S. citizens from traveling abroad to fight alongside terrorist groups and to prevent possible terrorist attacks at home by those returning from fighting in Syria and Iraq, a senior administration official told reporters today.

The program is modeled on an effort in the United Kingdom that works with local communities to deter and prevent attacks, said the official, who asked not to be named in order to discuss internal plans.

The effort, which has also launched in Boston and Minneapolis, is part of a broader strategy known as “countering violent extremism.”

As part of the pilot program first announced by Atty. Gen. Eric Holder last week, the administration is looking for new ways to intervene in the lives of people who may consider launching an attack against the United States. To do this, federal agencies, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, are working to identify people who may be interested in traveling to Syria and try to persuade them not to go, as well as finding people who have fought with jihadist groups and monitoring them when they return to the United States.

Currently, the administration has a coordinator based in Los Angeles and another based in Boston who is reaching out to schools, healthcare providers and community groups to get their help in monitoring and deterring the radicalization of people who may be susceptible to recruitment by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, the administration official told reporters. The administration is looking to identify a point person in Minneapolis, and, in the meantime, the FBI and Justice Department officials there are working to build relationships with local institutions, the official said.

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The White House is also considering asking social media companies such as Twitter and YouTube to take down propaganda videos used by groups such as Islamic State to recruit Americans and other nationalities to join the fight.

U.S. officials have said in recent months that as many as 100 of the estimated 10,000 foreign fighters who have joined or attempted to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq hold U.S. passports, a number they say is growing. Among those was Douglas McAuthur McCain, a 33-year-old San Diego student who was killed in Syria this summer while reportedly fighting for the Islamic State.

The number of Americans interested in joining the fight in Syria and Iraq “dwarfs what we have seen previously,” a second administration official told reporters. “One American going [abroad to fight] is too much,” the official said.

Follow @ByBrianBennett and @vicjkim on Twitter.


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