COLUMBUS, Ohio — Vigilance is needed to counter attempts at violent extremism at home as the threat of Islamic State militants overseas grows, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday after a meeting with community leaders at a central Ohio mosque.
Islamic State militants have a slick social media campaign that must be countered with alternative messages, Jeh Johnson said just two days after the U.S. began airstrikes on the militants in Syria.
"We've got to counter that message. We've got to build an alternative messaging campaign. And that's one of the reasons I'm here, to encourage that, to encourage that in community organizations and to listen to these groups," Johnson said.
The Noor Cultural Islamic Center is the largest mosque in central Ohio and one of the biggest in the country.
Islamic State militants have overrun large areas of Syria and Iraq, killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians and claimed responsibility for beheading two American journalists. The group has threatened violence against the U.S. and its interests overseas.
The government has previously warned about the possibility of homegrown violent extremists in the United States launching attacks out of frustration over the airstrikes. The fear is "somebody who is radicalized right here at home one way or another," Johnson said.
Johnson spoke after meeting with local police and Muslim community leaders, outreach he called valuable in combatting homegrown radicals.
The chairman of the mosque's board of trustees thanked Johnson for his visit and said Muslim-Americans share the same interests as all Americans in participating in national security.
"Whether it's at the local level, or whether it's at the national level, we want to build a strong America together," said Imran Malik.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.