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Justice Department Renews Focus On Homegrown Terrorists

The U.S. has devoted billions of dollars to fighting terrorism overseas in the years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Now, the Justice Department is increasingly warning about the danger posed by radicals on American soil, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wants prosecutors and FBI agents to devote more attention to the threat.

Nearly two decades ago, after the Oklahoma City Bombing killed 168 people, the Justice Department launched a group to fight domestic terrorism.

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That group was set to meet on Sept. 11, 2001, but the meeting got canceled and the idea shelved as the U.S. turned to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now Holder will re-launch the group — focused this time on home grown extremists.

"The threat from al-Qaida is much more diffuse after 9-11 and the threats posed by a single horribly misguided citizen or permanent legal resident in the U.S. is in a sense as great as what core al-Qaida posed before 9-11," says Neil MacBride, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Threats like the deadly shootings at Jewish facilities in Kansas this year, the attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six people in 2012 and a bomb designed to detonate at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington. The man involved in that 2011 case got 32 years in prison.

Beth Wilkinson, who helped prosecute the Oklahoma City bomber, says any system that promotes sharing information between the Justice Department and the FBI makes sense.

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"In many cases, and we saw one in Oklahoma City, there are individual events that sometimes could trigger the need for an investigation," Wilkinson says. "Sometimes those events don't get noticed and don't get put together with events in other states or other jurisdictions."

Wilkinson says she's not sure there's another Oklahoma City type threat these days — but more attention to the issues can't hurt.

"Better to put the task force together early and if there isn't a large national problem then great, and if there is such problem, then law enforcement will be prepared," Wilkinson says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/

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