International reporter talks counterterrorism

Dina Temple-Raston, long-time counter-terrorism correspondent with National Public Radio, speaks to the Economic Club of Marquette County at the Ramada Inn Monday evening. (Journal photo by Mary Wardell)

MARQUETTE — Good news is hard to find on the subject of terrorism in the world today.

But the Economic Club of Marquette County learned about at least one silver lining at the Ramada Inn Monday evening from the perspective of Dina Temple-Raston, longtime counterterrorism correspondent with National Public Radio.

Temple-Raston, a Belgian-born American journalist and award-winning author, shared insights into the radicalization process, counterterrorism policy and what she expects to happen next among operatives in the Middle East.

The “good news” relates to why young men apparently become radicalized in the first place.

Temple-Raston pointed to surprising facts — like every lethal Jihadist attack in the U.S. since 9/11 attack was the work of either a U.S. citizen or permanent U.S. resident, she said.

She added that the nickname given to these American-born terrorists is “Pepsi-Cola Jihadists.”

“It’s not a conviction that’s a religious conviction, but something else,” she said. “And what we’re finding more and more with ISIS is what’s driving these kids is not that they believe in violent extremism, what’s driving them is a need to belong, in the same way that is thought about gangs, why a lot of kids join gangs.”

And we know, more or less, she said, how to fight gangs.

“When it’s an ideological fight, we didn’t quite know how to do it,” Temple-Raston said. “But now we have the tools that when we talk about people who have been radicalized into ISIS when they were very young, we know how to sort of reprogram them.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State, and by its Arabic language acronym Daesh, is a Salafi jihadist militant group.

Temple-Raston played part of an interview she conducted with a teenage American boy, who had joined so-called Islamic State. In the interview, the adolescent, with a familiar Midwestern accent, talked about the depression he felt after graduating high school, leaving behind football and friends, and the allure of the propaganda that somehow spoke to him.

Temple-Raston said ISIS propaganda videos look like a “cross between a Vin Diesel movie and a video game.” She added they often lure them with the prospect of wives, which draws in Muslim boys in strict religious families, for whom sex is strictly off limits.

She said the old days of needing a physical recruiter are no longer — and that most recruiting happens online, not in physical locations such as Mosques.

In fact, Temple-Raston added, most of the time, officials learn about radicalization from the boy’s parents and community.

“This is why you rankle the Muslim community if you say that they aren’t American or somehow are a suspect because they’re Muslim,” Temple-Raston said. “You’re taking away one of the greatest tools the FBI and local police have to find these kids.”

She said the threat in Europe is much greater in the U.S., in large part because of the discrimination Muslims face. When people feel excluded from opportunity, they’re more likely to seek it elsewhere, and that is what ISIS propaganda is promising them, she said.

“Again, this is a good news story for the United States because as a general matter, we don’t have a huge discrimination issue when it comes to Muslims,” she said. “We go through fits and starts with this, but as a general matter, they are folded into our society and accepted.”

Temple-Raston said even though she’s from Belgium, she didn’t realize how bad the discrimination was there until she started reporting on it.

“It turns out we’re incredibly racist, incredibly racist, and I had no idea,” Temple-Raston said. “And it’s openly racist, in a way that like the U.S. was racist in the 1940s and ’50s, so right to people’s faces.”

Compared to a couple hundred individuals who have joined ISIS from the U.S., there are thousands in Europe who have — mostly from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany, she said.

Temple-Raston also said that of the 13 deadly attackers who have lashed out since 9/11, eight were born in the U.S., and none of the others came from the six Muslim-majority countries covered by the Trump Administration’s temporary travel ban.

She said the travel ban and the rise in civilian causalities linked to new Trump Administration policies could be a concern.

“These are the sorts of things that feed grievances that people don’t right now have in the U.S., but could have in the future,” she said.

Looking ahead, as ISIS loses territory and credibility, al-Qaida will likely re-enter the picture, Temple-Raston predicted.

Al-Qaida is a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden.

“Al-Qaida is biding its time,” she said, “allowing ISIS to take all the body blows.”

Another place where she expects more attacks to be planned is in Pakistan and the Haqqani Network.

But nonetheless, Temple-Raston said the U.S. is unlikely to face the same sort of threats as Europe.

“Mostly because we’re just not as discriminatory as they are,” Temple-Raston said. “And the number one driver, the thing that drives people into the arms of groups like ISIS and al-Qaida, is this feeling of injustice and this feeling of discrimination.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is