Donald Trump says American Muslims don't report extremists. Is that true?

In the wake of Orlando's mass shooting, Donald Trump said that American Muslims refuse to tell authorities about fellow members of the faith who they suspect of turning to extremism. Is he right?

Cliff Owen/AP
Raza Zaman of Bethesda, Md., (r.) joins others in a prayer during a vigil in Washington, Monday, hosted by the Muslim American Women's Policy Forum, in memory of the victims of the Orlando mass shooting. A gunman opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub early Sunday, before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said.

How likely are American Muslims to inform authorities of co-religionists they fear may be turning to extremism?

Donald Trump has argued the chances are negligible, maybe non-existent. But law enforcement officials paint a different picture, describing countless instances of cooperation and assistance, though tempering their exuberance with the admission that tensions do remain.

"They don't report them," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told CNN in an interview Monday, speaking after the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub by an American Muslim claiming allegiance to Islamic State. "For some reason, the Muslim community does not report people like this."

The words of Federal Bureau of Investigation director, James Comey, directly after the tragic events in Orlando, offered a different perspective.

"They do not want people committing violence,” Mr. Comey told reporters, “either in their community or in the name of their faith, and so some of our most productive relationships are with people who see things and tell us things who happen to be Muslim.

"It's at the heart of the FBI's effectiveness to have good relationships with these folks," he added.

Echoing his boss’s words, Andrew Ames, FBI spokesman for the agency’s Washington field office, talked with Reuters about a “robust” relationship with local Muslim communities. Michael Downing, Los Angeles Police Department’s head of Counterterrorism and Special Operations, described a similar experience, highlighting “red flags” that his city’s Muslim community had brought to police attention.

"I personally have been called by community members about several things, very significant things," Mr. Downing told Reuters. "What we say to communities is that we don't want you to profile humans, we want you to profile behavior."

Outside the law enforcement world itself, there is also disagreement with Mr. Trump’s assertions.

Author of several studies on Muslim-Americans and terrorism, Charles Kurzman, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Reuters that such categorical claims are “false and defamatory.”

In research carried out in January, Dr. Kurzman and colleagues at Duke University's Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in North Carolina revealed numerous examples of law enforcement agencies building trust with local Muslim-American communities.

Yet they also found disagreements. One example was concerns over authorities’ tactic of encouraging the pursuit of a plot by a suspect in order to achieve an arrest, rather than diverting such people onto a nonviolent path, an approach that families and community members would prefer.

While the truth is undoubtedly a complex creature, and it is hard to draw definitive conclusions, the words of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which advocates for “justice and mutual understanding,” would seem to support the experience of law enforcement agencies.

“Like the rest of the mainstream American Muslim community,” reads a statement on the organization's website. “CAIR believes it is both our civic and religious duty to work with law enforcement to protect our nation. Even one incident of violent extremism is too many.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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