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Report: FBI concerned Phoenix may be a hotbed for terrorism

LISTEN: Mark Spencer

PHOENIX — The Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly met with Phoenix police officials recently over concerns that a specific part of the city may become a hotbed for terrorism.

Fox News reports the FBI is most concerned about the area between near Interstate 17 and Cactus Road, the former neighborhood of two men who opened fire on a Texas cartoon convention earlier this year.

That sentiment was echoed by a high-ranking Phoenix officer who attended the briefing. “The FBI says Phoenix is a hotbed and very active, lots of chatter on the airwaves,” the officer said.

A mosque in the same area has been the target of several anti-Muslim protests.

Mark Spencer, a 25-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos on Monday the FBI was likely being proactive about possible threats.

“I think the FBI is doing the proactive and professional thing in partnering with local law enforcement in providing them with vital and crucial information,” he said.

Spencer said the specific location focus of the briefing showed the FBI is working on credible information.

“It certainly catches everyone’s attention so they know what they’re looking for,” he said.

It is unclear when the reported briefing, which has not been confirmed by Phoenix police, was held. Fox reported it was held two weeks ago, prior to the terror attacks in Paris that left 129 dead and 352 wounded, while Spencer said it happened last week. Fox did not name any of the three sources it cited.

In a one-sentence statement to Fox, the FBI said it “routinely provides briefings and shares information with our local, state, federal, and tribal partners.”

While Spencer did not attend the briefing, he said officers welcome such information, as they are typically trained to spot drug or criminal activity, not terrorism.

“There seems to be a lacking or certainly a behind-the-curve training provision in recognizing Islamic jihadist terrorists,” he said. “I think what the FBI is doing here is providing front-line first responders with indicators to look for, methods, motives.”

Fox News reported terrorist groups are targeting “high-school age students,” something Spencer said should come as no surprise.

“The target audience seems to be a younger mindset that is more easily influenced and certainly willing to take greater risk for a cause they deem is valid,” he said.

Spencer cited a Threat Knowledge Group study that said, of the 82 people with ISIS connections interdicted by law enforcement in the United States, 62 of them are between the ages of 15 and 25. According to Bloomberg, the Threat Knowledge Group is a security company that specializes in irregular warfare and counter-terrorism.

Spencer said the recruitment process is varying, with terrorist organizations reaching out via the Internet or in person. Those recruiters could be Americans or they could be from overseas.

Fox also said the FBI was concerned after two separate groups of Arabic or Middle Eastern men were caught crossing into Arizona over the Mexican border.

“When it comes to terrorism there are no coincidences, and that fact that three Saudi Arabians were detained in the same area … days before Pakistanis and Afghans were arrested in the same area isn’t coincidence,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.

None of the men were linked to terrorism.

Though the apprehensions likely occurred after the Phoenix briefing, Spencer said the border is a concern of his.

At least one person from the Phoenix area has been arrested for allegedly supporting ISIS. Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal, 42, allegedly helped a New York City college student travel to Syria via Turkey to receive military-style training from ISIS.

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