Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Calls for New Focus on Online Radicalization

Jun 14, 2016
Press Release
Orlando Terrorist Joined Online Jihadist Group

Congressman Also Questions “Temporary” Nature of FBI Watchlist

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, today called for increased focus on the online radicalization of Islamic terrorists in the wake of the Orlando attack, the deadliest act of Islamic terror in the United States since September 11, 2001. Buchanan also questioned whether the FBI should consider keeping suspected terrorists on their watch list for an extended period of time, instead of dropping them off as was the case with the Orlando killer.

“We have a clear pattern of Islamic terrorists attacking Americans after they’ve become radicalized online,” Buchanan said. “Hatred of America is spreading online like a virus and terrorist Internet propaganda is driving people to kill. We are at war with radical Islam and we need to use every tool at our disposal.”

FBI Director James Comey said Monday the killer was clearly radicalized in part through the Internet.

Buchanan is the author of federal legislation to require social media screening for any foreigner who wants to enter America. He said that while constitutional privacy rights must be protected in this country, anyone who communicates with terrorist organizations or threatens violence in the name of radical jihad should be on the radar.  

According to press reports, the killer was enrolled in an online group, the Fundamental Islamic Knowledge Seminary, run by a radical Muslim cleric who served as bodyguard to the “Blind Sheik,” the terrorist leader who carried out the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The killer also had been the subject of multiple FBI inquiries and had previously been on the terror watchlist, but was removed in 2014 because an investigation did not turn up evidence sufficient to arrest him.

Other killers had similar patterns:

In December 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 injured in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. The terrorists were part of online discussions advocating jihad in messages on social media.

In July 2015, five people were killed and two were wounded in a terrorist attack in Chattanooga, Tenn. FBI Director James Comey said that the shootings were “motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda.”

In April 2013, four people were killed and 264 wounded in a terrorist attack in Boston, Mass. The brothers that carried out the attack were active readers of Al-Qaeda’s online propaganda.

In November 2009, 13 people were killed and 32 wounded in a terrorist attack at Fort Hood, Texas. The terrorist had directly communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, the former al-Qaeda leader, via the Internet, according to a Senate investigation.

Buchanan said, “As radical Islamic jihadists use the Internet and social media sites to communicate, fundraise and recruit, it is clear we need to do everything in our power to unleash 21st century resources to penetrate the online presence of radical extremist groups and understand who they are communicating with, while protecting the privacy rights every American is entitled to. Also, if the targets of counterterror investigations are making threats and communicating with known terror groups, then I think it’s reasonable for the FBI and others to consider keeping these people on watchlists for an extended period of time. It’s also imperative that the public remain vigilant and engaged in paying attention to the possibility of threats rising within their communities.”

Buchanan has been a leader in Congress in pursuing innovative approaches to fighting terrorists online.

His Social Media Screening For Terrorists Act directs the secretary of Homeland Security to vet all public records, including Facebook and other forms of social media, before admitting foreign travelers and visa applicants into the country. The bill has the support of the chairs of the House Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

The Congressman pointed to the fact that senior Obama administration officials – including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson – have testified that ISIS operatives have attempted to infiltrate refugee populations and that the current federal screening process is wholly inadequate.

A top counterterrorism adviser to the Obama administration stated with regard to ISIS that, “They’re on Facebook. They’re on YouTube. There are something like 90,000 Twitter accounts associated with or sympathetic to ISIL, sometimes with 50,000 followers each."

Buchanan introduced his bill in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., when Americans learned that the federal government does not screen the social media profiles of foreigners seeking to enter our country.

Buchanan is scheduled to receive a classified briefing on the Orlando attack from FBI Director James Comey, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and National Counterterrorism Director Nicholas Rasmussen today.