U.S. Attorney Jay Town warns online radicalization can occur in any community

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Friday, Iran threatened “forceful revenge” in the wake of the United States’ killing of a top Iranian general who was linked to attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and terrorist militias across the Middle East. Iranian security forces also said they would avenge the killing.

U.S. Attorney Jay Town of the Northern District of Alabama spoke with WHNT News 19 on Friday, pointing out any community can face the risk of homegrown extremism through the reach of the Internet.

“We live in a safe community, a safe state. But because of the Internet, because of the way radicalization happens now, it can happen anywhere. It doesn’t just happen in big cities,” Town said.

“‘See something, say something’ was really meant when we were thinking of actually seeing someone leaving a backpack or you know, doing something in a crowd,” Town said. “But now when you’re on these chat rooms, when you’re on Facebook or any social media website, just normal internet, not the dark web, and you do see a link to something that’s disturbing or you somebody that is saying something that is troubling, and might sort of invoke some sort of radical behavior, I think we all have a duty, not just law enforcement, not just the FBI, not just the U.S. Attorney and his office, we all have a duty to one another to you know, inform someone in law enforcement so that we can at least run it down and make sure it is nothing.”

North Alabama saw a Huntsville-area college student radicalized in 2017. Aziz Sayyed was arrested after informants came forward. Town said they felt compelled to do the right thing — to tell law enforcement what they were seeing.

“Sayyed had made overtures regarding bombs, TATP explosives which can be made in a home or a garage and then leaving in a public place like a police station or a mall or in some sort of populated area where it could do the most damage,” Town said. “And, produce the most fear, which is the goal of these foreign terrorist organizations. When they radicalize individuals it isn’t to gain some sort of foothold in the United States, it is to invoke fear, it is to invoke terror.”

Town advises residents online to look out for radical sentiments being expressed, and understand that groups looking for would-be terrorists aren’t choosy.

“Foreign terrorist organizations do not care about your background, they don’t care about your family’s heritage or history. What they aim to do is radicalize based on an ideology,” Town said.

Town said there are some telltale signs that point to someone becoming radicalized.

“When someone goes from just sort of being your average everyday individual to being uber-religious, hyper-religious, all they talk about with their religious talk is also sort of anti-government sentiment, talking about the Middle East, talking about military presence, American military presence in the Middle East. Those are things we see consistently when we are dealing with homegrown, violent extremists.

Town said local police and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have done great work since 9/11.

“They’ve done a fabulous job in protecting the homeland from terrorist events, but I don’t think that we in law enforcement are at all sitting back on our heels and believing that we’ve conquered the problem. It remains the number one priority for a reason,” Town said.

The U.S. attorney said if residents see something online or otherwise that causes concern about possible radicalization, they should reach out to law enforcement.

Sayyed was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

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