9 Mar 2011

Who's the target over US 'home-grown terror'?

Channel 4 News Washington Correspondent Sarah Smith looks at the controversial Congressional hearings into “home-grown terrorism” and asks who is really being targeted?

Melvin Bledsoe is a sharply dressed man from Memphis, Tennessee. With his solid gold pen and his plaid checked cap he looks every bit the self-made business man.

He is a great African-American example of the American Dream made good. And that’s how he raised his family. In middle-class, Middle America with American values. Attending a Christian Baptist church.

(Sarah Smith’s report from March 2010)

He is furious that his son, Carlos Bledsoe, became a radical Muslim extremist who shot dead one American soldier outside an army recruiting station and injured another.

Melvin is in Washington this week, at the invitation of Republican Congressman Peter King. He will appear as a witness on Thursday in front of the highly controversial hearings in the House of Representatives into what they call “the rising terrorist threat form American Muslims”.

He says he plans to tell the law-makers the same things he told me when I met him last year. He will talk about the people he calls “bloodsuckers” and “hunters”, who he says targeted his son, who took advantage of a naive young Islamic convert and turned him into a radical murderer. He thinks his son was deliberately targeted by extremists who brainwashed him into believing he needed to use violence to achieve what Allah promises.

Carlos Bledsoe, or Abdul Hakim Muhammad as he calls himself these days, is in jail in Little Rock, Arkansas. His trial is due to start shortly and as he intends to plead guilty to pre-meditated murder, he may well face the death penalty. His crime has been called the first home-grown terrorist attack on American soil. And it’s that home-grown terror threat that the House Homeland Security Committee is due to start investigating.

These hearings have generated huge controversy. Peter King has been accused of spreading fear and bigotry with his “witch-hunt”.

Read more: US hearings into ‘rising threat’ from homegrown Muslims

Prominent American Muslims say they feel as though their community is being scapegoated and that all Muslim are being tarred with the extremist brush. No wonder, when King has said in the past that there are too many mosques in America, that 80 per cent of them are run by extremists and that too many American Muslims are sympathetic to radical Islam.

Read more: Channel 4 News special report – War on terror

Melvin Bledsoe has no doubt been invited to give evidence to these hearings because he will largely agree that there is a clear and present threat from active Islamic extremists inside America. The people he called “invaders and evildoers”.

He has been asking for years for America to pay greater attention to this threat within because he doesn’t want any other young men targeted the way he believes his son was. Others remain deeply concerned that it’s the wider Muslim American community that’s being targeted by Peter King. And that these hearings will foster greater mistrust and alienation in a country already plagued with growing Islamophobia.