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King Defends Muslim Hearing as Needed to Probe Al-Qaeda

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Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Peter King
Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Peter King listens during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee March 10, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Congress must investigate al-Qaeda’s efforts to recruit U.S. Muslims and an alleged lack of cooperation by Islamic leaders in fighting terrorism rather than submit to a “craven surrender to political correctness,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King said.

“This committee cannot live in denial,” King, a New York Republican, said today at the opening of hearings on Muslim radicalization. “There are realities we cannot ignore” about U.S. Muslim militancy, he said. He accused “special-interest groups and the media” of engaging in “paroxysms of rage and hysteria.”

King ignited a firestorm with his plan to explore the causes of Islamic radicalization, prompting street protests in New York last week and denunciations by civil libertarians and Muslim groups. His critics said the hearings could backfire by giving extremists new recruiting talking points and alienating Muslims.

“I cannot help but wonder how propaganda about this hearing’s focus on the American Muslim community will be used by those who seek to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, the Homeland Security panel’s senior Democrat.

Irish Roots

Thompson, of Mississippi, also referred to King’s Irish roots. King, 66, has been criticized for his past support of the Irish Republican Army, which used terrorist tactics in its attempt to end British rule in Northern Ireland.

“As I understand it, the chairman’s background includes the history of a country divided by religion and torn by a prolonged and violent struggle,” Thompson said.

King has said that, unlike al-Qaeda, the IRA never attacked the U.S.

In a 1995 CNN interview, King said, “The moral standing of the IRA is equal to that of the British army.”

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, King was involved in the Northern Irish peace process, relying on his contacts with Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing. “There was a real opening here if the U.S. took advantage of it” to broker a peace accord, King told CNN yesterday.

Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim elected to Congress, choked up in speaking about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a Muslim New York Police Department cadet who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

‘After the Tragedy’

“After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character” because of his religion, said Ellison, who opposed the hearings’ focus on Muslim radicalization.

In a statement, U.S. religious leaders said today’s hearing should be broadened to avoid appearing to condemn one group.

“To assert that Muslims as a broad group are not deeply devoted to America’s safety and the peaceful interaction of its entire citizenry, that is false witness,” according to the statement.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, said testimony by Muslim American witnesses today contradicts King’s claims that Muslim leaders aren’t cooperating with authorities.

“They are here doing what this hearing suggested that they don’t do,” she said. Jackson Lee said the hearing would provide “no redeeming factual information” and give al-Qaeda propaganda, as King slammed down the gavel and told her that her time had expired.

Guantanamo Threats

In his testimony, Abdirizak Bihi of Minneapolis described how he had been discouraged by Muslim religious leaders from working with law enforcement to locate his nephew, Burhan Hassan, one of 20 Somali Americans recruited by al-Shabaab, a group linked to al-Qaeda, to fight in Somalia.

Bihi said he was told that “if you go to the FBI or the police, they don’t care about you,” and “they will send you to Guantanamo,” the U.S. facility in Cuba for terror suspects.

Melvin Bledsoe of Memphis, whose son, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad was arrested in the 2009 shooting in a Little Rock, Arkansas, military recruiting center, said Nashville religious leaders share the blame for his radicalization.

“There’s something wrong with Muslim leaders in Nashville,” he said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, who said his department’s relationship with Muslims has been “challenging at times,” said they had provided help with cases.

Tips and Leads

“Many tips, leads and reports of suspicious activities were provided by either Muslim community members or organizations,” he said.

Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said Muslims shouldn’t heed the advice of other Islamic leaders and only speak to the police with a lawyer present.

The comment drew a rebuke from Democratic Representative Loretta Sanchez, who said her Muslim constituents in Orange County, California, had been visited by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at night.

“If it were you on the other side of the door, not knowing what questions they would ask,” she asked Jasser, wouldn’t he request the agents return the next at his place of work?

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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