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Report: Internet Radicalizes U.S. Muslims Quickly

By: Shaun Waterman | Contributor: Scott Allswang

Young American Muslims can become radicalized online very quickly and with few warning signs, becoming potential terrorists before federal agencies can identify them, a new congressional report warned Monday.

Zachary Chesser, a 22-year-old Virginia man now serving 25 years for terrorism crimes, took less than two years to transform “from an average American kid to a hardened supporter of terrorist organizations,” according to a study of his case by staff from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The bipartisan report analyzes his prolific online writing and correspondence with staff investigators after his guilty plea October 2010 to three terrorism-related felonies. The charges included attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization through his efforts to join al-Shabab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.

“Chesser represents a growing breed of young Americans who have such comfort and facility with social media that they can self-radicalize to violent Islamist extremism in an accelerated time period, compared to more traditional routes to radicalization,” the report said.

Chesser, who converted to Islam after graduating high school in 2008, is “a harbinger, not an outlier,” according to the report.

The report concluded that the federal government lacks a coordinated strategy to combat online radicalization, although it called a new State Department initiative aimed at countering terrorist chat on social media sites “encouraging but nascent.”

“The United States currently has a haphazard approach to dealing with global Internet radicalization and propaganda,” the report said.

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