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Former Army captain: Strong communities best defense against terror

Syrian refugee Ibraheem Alkhwaja, right, and his family have been befriended by neighbors Scott Lininger, left, and Jeff Rogers since moving into a home in Independence, Mo. Security expert Michael Breen says the best way to thwart attacks is "coming together as a community."

KEITH MYERS/KANSAS CITY STAR/TNS

By JEFF MCMENEMY | Portsmouth Herald, N.H. (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 27, 2017

North Hampton, N.H., native and decorated former U.S. Army Capt. Michael Breen believes the homegrown terrorist attack in Manchester, England, highlights a major difference between Europe and the United States right now.

"The situation in Europe is very different from the situation the United States," Breen said. "There's been a few incidents in the United States of course, but Europe has had a much more difficult time with terrorist attacks that are launched within their own population."

Breen, executive director for the Center for National Policy and its partner organization, the Truman National Security Project in Washington, D.C., said one of the main reasons for that is because "relationships between law enforcement organizations and minority communities have been stronger here."

"Minority communities have been more welcomed here and that has had a major impact," Breen said.

Breen, who served combat leadership assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan, said young men are much more likely to become radicalized if they remain isolated in their own communities.

"The best defense against that is strong communities and strong relationships between community leaders and law enforcement," Breen said.

The terrorist attack in Manchester, at the end of an Ariana Grande concert killed 22 people, many of them young girls. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

"As a human being and father of a young girl, it is shocking and upsetting to me when this happens," Breen said of the attack. "That said the true purpose of terrorism is to shock and cause social fear, and often to provoke a reaction aimed at dividing us."

Islamic terrorists also "tend to go after targets coming together in a community to have a good time," Breen said.

The best way to thwart the motives for their attacks is "coming together as a community, a lot like Boston," he said. "That's powerful stuff. By coming together they defeat the attack in a very fundamental way."

The climate in Europe is also different, Breen said, because the U.S. has "a more robust system of intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing" than Europe.

There's a lot of variability in how European countries gather intelligence and how they share it, he said.

"In some cases they're not gathering it," Breen said. "When you fly into or over the United States, there's a certain amount of information gathered about you."

Immigration policies in Europe and the United States are also "like apples and oranges," Breen said, adding some refugees entering European countries are not vetted at all.

"When a refugee arrives in the United States, they are the most vetted person who gets off that airplane, usually over a couple of years," Breen said.

Breen credited British authorities for their response to the attack.

"You're constantly learning from what happened, thinking about what are our vulnerabilities and what can we do better," he said. "A lot of this game is who learns faster, us or our enemy."

He also acknowledged it is difficult for law enforcement and those in the intelligence industry "by themselves to defeat the challenge of a lone wolf terrorist."

The best way to "fix the problem before the bomb goes off is to increase ties between minority communities and law enforcement," Breen said.

He noted those in the Manchester's Muslim community reported their concerns about the terrorist to police.

"Even if we destroy the Islamic State, there will be other groups trying to take their place," he said. " ... Travel bans are not going to keep us safe, cracking down on civil liberties are not going to keep us safe." "Having fundamentally strong community institutions and strong partnerships between security officials and leaders in our community will."

©2017 Portsmouth Herald, N.H.
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