DHS counterterrorism strategy focuses on white supremacy threat

President criticized for not condemning strongly

By Geneva Sands, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

Department of Homeland Security sign.

(CNN) - Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Friday released the department's counterterrorism strategy, outlining the ongoing threats from foreign terrorism and focusing on domestic terror threats, particularly white supremacism.

McAleenan called white supremacist extremism is one of the most "potent ideologies" driving acts violence in the US.

"In our modern age, the continued menace of racially based violent extremism, particularly white supremacist extremism, is an abhorrent affront to the nation, the struggle and unity of its diverse population," he said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

He pointed to the attacks in Poway, El Paso, Pittsburgh and Charleston, saying they were motivated by various extremist ideologies, including "very concerningly and increasingly, white supremacist violent extremism."

According to McAleenan, ISIS and al Qaeda remain the "two most pressing radical Islamist terrorist threats" to the US with potential to direct plots and also to inspire homegrown violent extremism in their name.

The strategic announcement comes just days after a judge ruled that the American Airlines mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a commercial airliner before takeoff will be held in custody until trial. The judge said during a bond hearing that Ahmed Alani, who allegedly tried to damage or disable an aircraft's air data module system, "may be very sympathetic to terrorists."

Alani has been charged with "willfully damaging, destroying, disabling, or wrecking an aircraft, and attempting to do so," according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court earlier this month. No terror-related charges have been filed.

President Donald Trump has been criticized for not condemning white supremacy strongly enough, with some accusing him of exacerbating the problem.

Earlier this month, former Vice President Joe Biden connected Trump's rhetoric with the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, saying in a speech that the President has "fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation."

In August, CNN reported that White House officials rebuffed efforts by their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security for more than a year to make combating domestic terror threats, such as those from white supremacists, a greater priority as specifically spelled out in the National Counterterrorism Strategy, sources told CNN.

Last October, the White House unveiled its national counterterrorism strategy, which offered a broad strokes blueprint for how the Trump administration will and already has approached the threat of terrorism, from targeting terrorists at their source to beefing up efforts domestically to tackle the threat of homegrown terrorism.

Recently-ousted national security adviser John Bolton described the new strategy at the time as a sharp departure from President Barack Obama's approach to confronting terrorism, emphasizing the Trump administration's recognition of the threat as one rooted in radical Islamist ideology.

"Radical Islamist terrorist groups still represent the preeminent threat to the United States," Bolton said. "We recognize that there is a terrorist ideology that we're confronting. And I think it's long been the President's view that without recognizing that we're in an ideological struggle, that we can't properly address the terrorist threat."

CNN's Jake Tapper and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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