As anniversary of bin Laden's death nears, threat of homegrown terrorism occupies law enforcement
Al-Qaida's reach includes inspiring homegrown terrorists to act on its behalf
by Brenda Gazzar
With the second anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death approaching on Thursday and in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, local law enforcement agencies are especially vigilant and poised to ramp up security to deter any potential terrorist attacks.
The anniversary also comes as two men were arrested and charged last week with allegedly plotting an attack against a Canadian passenger train with support from al-Qaida elements in Iran.
But for Capt. John Stedman of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Emergency Operations Bureau, it's the possibility of homegrown terrorism perpetrated by one or two individuals that he says is the scariest and most challenging threat to tackle.
"It's not cell driven or state sponsored; it's just local people who have an axe to grind that are going to take it out on the public," Stedman said, noting that the recent Boston Marathon attacks appear to him to be a case of homegrown terrorism. "Those are the biggest threats because they're the hardest ones to find ... and the ones we try to pay attention to. We have deputies on the ground working in the community. Hopefully, they would hear about that."
Experts say al-Qaida continues to be the most salient terrorist threat and one that has gotten more complex and harder to detect over the years.
Instead of the highly centralized organization that it was on Sept. 11, 2001, it's far more defused today and much more dependent on its affiliates, its allies and its ability to inspire homegrown terrorists to carry out attacks on its behalf, said Brian Jenkins, terrorism expert and senior advisor to the RAND Corp. president.
Between Sept. 11, 2001 and the end of 2012, there were 41 plots discovered by would-be homegrown terrorists inspired by some version of al-Qaida's ideology or who envisioned themselves as warriors in response to the terrorist group's urgings, he said. These homegrown elements are inspired by an ideology that has transcended bin Laden and al-Qaida itself and has become, to a certain degree, a conveyor of personal discontents, he said.
"If we look at these young men who have been arrested, in many cases, they've radicalized and recruited themselves as a consequence of personal crisis," Jenkins said. "Their life was going nowhere. ...(They) found themselves in jail. Some were just bad apples, some were bozos, some were boys seeking adventure wanting to do something meaningful."
Homegrown conspiracies - about two-thirds of which involve a single individual - are particularly difficult to identify since they do not involve a large organization that can be penetrated by intelligence.
"We don't have an X-ray for a man's soul," Jenkins said. "What's inside the head of a single individual? It lies beyond our intelligence capabilities."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Glendale, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, noted that al-Qaida has been able to disseminate information about making low-cost explosives that can do significant damage while propagating their "ideology of hate" to alienated people around the world.
"That may be the role of the new al-Qaida, which is hatching small plots and making it easy for the alienated to take the lives of those around them," Schiff said.
In terms of frequency, the largest threat in the U.S. from 1995 to 2012 has come from far right-wing, anti-government or racist extremists, such as the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995 and the 2012 Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
But in terms of the number of fatalities, the most significant threat has come from "Salafist jihadists," which Levin described as an ultra-fundamentalist brand of Islam. It includes incidents, he said, such as the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. The Boston Marathon bombing suspects also appear to be significantly influenced by such extremist clerics and literature, he said.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of al-Qaida's core leadership, has been trying to recruit Western Muslim youth and radicalize them by sending a Salafist message in a Western package, Levin said. This often comes in the form of Jihadi rap music or English-language online magazines geared to a culturally Western audience.
"I think these Boston attacks reflect something we've seen over some time, seemingly Westernized youth who at some point become rootless or disenfranchised and get hooked up in this net sent out overseas," Levin said. "They're not necessarily part of an organized group ... It's much more likely though that they're responding to this radicalization from social networking."
Elements who adhere to this twisted religious ideology bent on killing Americans is merely "a sliver" of the U.S. population. The mainstream Muslim community in the U.S., and particularly in California, do not support their thinking and are a critical security partner for law enforcement, he said.
"Often times, it is the Islamic community itself that is able to thwart these plots," Levin said. "We've seen that time and again."
City of Thorns: Despite reforms, Pasadena police still face controversy
by Dana Bartholomew and Brian Charles,
PASADENA -- Two decades ago, a trio of Pasadena gang members stunned the City of Roses by gunning down six boys trick-or-treating, killing three and injuring three others on a night now known as the Halloween Massacre.
Now, after a 20-year police crackdown against gangs in one of Southern California's most regal cities, the tide has turned, with crime at modern historic lows.
But instead of celebrating a hard-won victory, Pasadena police are themselves accused of kidnapping, beating and threatening to kill witnesses, withholding evidence in trials, attempting to bribe attorneys, wrongly shooting unarmed residents and a litany of civil rights abuses in their war against gangs and thugs.
"It's gotten out of hand," said Joe Brown, former head of the city's NAACP branch, who has been tracking cases within the black community. "The problem is a lack of appropriate training and community policing.
"Some officers have used some of the most egregious tactics in police investigative work."
Law enforcement agencies from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the county Alternate Public Defender and Office of Independent Review and the Pasadena police internal affairs unit are expected to soon release the results of various police misconduct investigations.
In February, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and Police Chief Phillip Sanchez also called for a comprehensive independent audit of cases within the Detective Bureau.
"Chief Sanchez has worked diligently since his appointment in 2010 to further changes within the department's policies, procedures and protocol to enhance accountability," Bogaard said in a statement. "While those efforts continue, we must also ensure that the residents of Pasadena have confidence in our police department."
The city has long trumpeted its historic Tournament of Roses parade, 99 years of Rose Bowl kickoffs, its old-money mansions and some of the richest civic, scientific, architectural and cultural landmarks in Southern California.
But now the city's pristine image is marred by the acts of a few.
Despite a commercial renaissance of its historic downtown and creeping gentrification of its century-old bungalow neighborhoods, some say numerous gangs - from the Pasadena Denver Lanes Bloods to the Latin Kings to the Altadena Block Crips - still prey upon whole communities.
Police have responded in force - and with perfect success in solving every murder since 2008 and attaining one of the lowest violent crime rates in decades. Serious crimes from car thefts to armed robbery to rape and murder fell from more than 9,700 in 1993 to 5,300 a decade ago, in line with a national decline in crime. Last year, such crimes dipped below 4,000 for the first time in five years.
The average of nearly 20 murders a year two decades ago has plummeted to between four and six a year over the last five years, according to city records.
But in getting there, some say police have crossed moral, ethical and legal battle lines, according to numerous police department complaints, civil rights lawsuits, Superior Court judges and local community activists. Multiple allegations of police misconduct are now subject to a web of internal police, county and federal law enforcement agency probes.
Some of the more straightforward allegations include:
Gunning down an unarmed black college student who police officers believed was reaching for a gun, igniting protests from Pasadena to Los Angeles.
Firing multiple times at a black city utility worker's truck after the worker fires a warning shot to ward off a threatening gang member. Police filled his truck and the surrounding neighborhood with bullets.
Dragging a witness from his home to police headquarters, then assaulting him to coerce false statements.
The embattled police chief, meanwhile, has hired a private firm to examine the inner workings of his department. This includes every case handled by two cops admonished by a state judge in February after declaring a mistrial in a 2007 murder case because of "egregious" police misconduct.
While one of the officers allegedly threatened to charge a witness as an accessory to murder and hand her daughter over to the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services if she didn't recant her testimony, another offered to pay her $6,450 in "relocation expenses" when she finally did. Police officials say the woman was legitimately placed in a witness protection program.
One of the cops even said in court he didn't know he was bound by law to hand over evidence that might vindicate the accused.
"Does he think I'm a turnip farmer and I fell off my truck on the way to the market?" said Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler, who had presided over the Phil Spector trial, after declaring Officer Kevin Okamoto and Detective William Broghamer committed "misconduct."
Okamoto has been placed on paid leave. Broghamer has been assigned to a desk job.
Sanchez says he's doing everything possible to investigate the allegations of misconduct levelled at just a few of his 240 sworn officers. He denies any racial profiling within a department mostly supervised by black and Latino officers. He says the cops' actions have been grossly mischaracterized by defense attorneys involved in a handful of police cases.
"If there are allegations of misconduct, I'm going to investigate them in a timely manner," said Sanchez, who joined the Pasadena Police Department three years ago, vowing to make it more transparent. "Pasadena police officers aren't perfect. They make mistakes.
"We have a robust internal affairs (unit) that investigates every allegation."
Miss. man charged in suspicious letters case
by HOLBROOK MOHR
BRANDON, Miss.—An ex-martial arts instructor made ricin and put the poison in letters to President Barack Obama and others, the FBI charged Saturday, days after dropping similar charges against an Elvis impersonator who insisted he had been framed.
The arrest of 41-year-old James Everett Dutschke early Saturday capped a week in which investigators initially zeroed in on a rival of Dutschke's, then decided they had the wrong man. The hunt for a suspect revealed tie after small-town tie between the two men and the 80-year-old county judge who, along with Obama and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, was among the targets of the letters.
Dutschke's house, business and vehicles in Tupelo were searched earlier in the week often by crews in hazardous materials suits and he had been under surveillance.
Dutschke (pronounced DUHS'-kee) was charged with "knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent, toxin and delivery system, for use as a weapon, to wit: ricin." U.S. attorney Felicia Adams and Daniel McMullen, the FBI agent in charge in Mississippi, made the announcement in a news release Saturday.
Dutschke's attorney, Lori Nail Basham, said she had no comment. Earlier this week she said that Dutschke was cooperating fully with investigators and Dutschke has insisted he had nothing to do with the letters. He was arrested about 12:50 a.m. at his house in Tupelo and is expected in court Monday. He faces up to life in prison, if convicted.
He already had legal problems. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty in state court to two child molestation charges involving three girls younger than 16. He also was appealing a conviction on a different charge of indecent exposure. He told AP earlier this week that his lawyer told him not to comment on those cases.
The letters, which tests showed were tainted with ricin, were sent April 8 to Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Mississippi judge, Sadie Holland.
Wicker spokesman Ryan Taylor said since the investigation was ongoing, the senator couldn't comment.
The first suspect fingered by the FBI was Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, an Elvis impersonator. He was arrested on April 17 at his Corinth, Miss., home, but the charges were dropped six days later and Curtis, who says he was framed, was released from jail.
The focus then turned to Dutschke, who has ties to the former suspect, the judge and the senator. Earlier in the week, as investigators searched his primary residence in Tupelo, Dutschke told The Associated Press, "I don't know how much more of this I can take."
"I'm a patriotic American. I don't have any grudges against anybody. ... I did not send the letters," Dutschke said.
Curtis' attorney, Christi McCoy, said Saturday: "We are relieved but also saddened. This crime is nothing short of diabolical. I have seen a lot of meanness in the past two decades, but this stops me in my tracks."
Some of the language in the letters was similar to posts on Curtis' Facebook page and they were signed, "I am KC and I approve this message." Curtis' signoff online was often similar.
And Dutschke and Curtis were acquainted. Curtis said they had talked about possibly publishing a book on a conspiracy that Curtis insists he has uncovered to sell body parts on a black market. But he said they later had a feud.
Curtis' attorneys have said they believe their client was set up. An FBI agent testified that no evidence of ricin was found in searches of Curtis' home. Curtis attorney Hal Neilson said the defense gave authorities a list of people who may have had a reason to hurt Curtis and Dutschke came up.
Judge Holland also is a common link between the two men, and both know Wicker.
Holland was the presiding judge in a 2004 case in which Curtis was accused of assaulting a Tupelo attorney a year earlier. Holland sentenced him to six months in the county jail. He served only part of the sentence, according to his brother.
And Holland's family has had political skirmishes with Dutschke. Her son, Steve Holland, a Democratic state representative, said he thinks his mother's only other encounter with Dutschke was at a rally in the town of Verona in 2007, when Dutschke ran as a Republican against Steve Holland.
Holland said his mother confronted Dutschke after he made a derogatory speech about the Holland family. She demanded that he apologize, which Holland says he did.
On Saturday, Steve Holland said he can't say for certain that Dutschke is the person who sent the letter to his mother but added, "I feel confident the FBI knows what they are doing."
"We're ready for this long nightmare to be over," Holland told The Associated Press.
He said he's not sure why someone would target his mother. Holland said he believes Dutschke would have more reason to target him than his mother.
"Maybe he thinks the best way to get to me is to get to the love of my life, which is my mother," Holland said.