Southwest Ohio residents should feel relieved about the outcome of the case resulting in the arrest of a man living in Dayton on charges accusing him of trying to join ISIS, one expert said Thursday.
“We were lucky,” said Mark Ensalaco, a professor and terrorism expert at the University of Dayton.
“ISIS has been urging potential recruits not to come to Syria, but rather to stage attacks in their homelands,” Ensalaco said, noting the attack at The Ohio State University by a radicalized student in a car.
“ISIS is urging them to strike out with these rudimentary attacks,” Ensalaco added before his political violence class. “We could be reporting on something very different here.”
A confidential informant assisted the FBI in gathering the evidence used to arrest Laith Waleed Alebbini, 26, Wednesday at Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport.
Ensalaco, director of human rights research at UD, said the FBI was expert in building trust and rapport with refugees and immigrants who help secure their communities by working with authorities.
“Without that trust that the FBI built, it might not have been possible to identify this individual,” he said, also crediting the confidential informant for putting aside religious beliefs to assist in the investigation.
“That’s really important in the environment we are in now, with all this anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric,” he added.
Standing in the front lobby of the Frericks Center on the UD campus, Ensalaco said area residents should not be afraid, but should be vigilant, about the potential presence of terrorists in the community.
“There are people in the community who can be radicalized,” he said, urging everyone to learn enough to recognize warning signs of a growing propensity for terrorism. “Being aware that this is a possibility, keeping an eye on someone’s social media posting and listening very carefully.”
Rather than devout, long-time Muslims, Ensalaco said terrorist profiles of those drawn to ISIS and other foreign terrorist groups tended to portray new converts, relatively ignorant of the religion.
Instead, the aspiring terrorist finds extremist messages compelling, a way to give their lives — often troubled by drugs or petty crime — meaning, he said.
“These people are susceptible to recruitment. They are susceptible to other high-risk behavior as well.”
Alebbini came to the U.S. on a student visa, a fact downplayed by Ensalaco.
“I wouldn’t make too much of that, other than warning against making too much of that,” he said. “That is not the cause for his radicalization.”
Court records indicate Alebbini had been under surveillance for months, while traveling back and forth.
This suggested to Ensalaco that FBI agents were gauging the immediacy of Alebbini’s threat, whether he was self-radicalized or directed by ISIS and whether he was acting as a “lone wolf” or as part of a larger network.
“It’s always a delicate balance between keeping the investigation open and learning as much as you can and not putting the safety of the country at risk,” he said.
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