DUBLIN, Ohio — In this central Ohio town, parents and community leaders are expressing growing fears that their youths may succumb to the Islamic State’s savvy social media appeal to join its fight on battlefields in Iraq and Syria.
But when Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson showed up recently at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center here to offer a sympathetic ear and federal assistance, he faced a litany of grievances from a group of mostly Muslim leaders and advocates.
They complained of humiliating border inspections by brusque federal agents, F.B.I. sting operations that wrongly targeted Muslim citizens as terrorists and a foreign policy that leaves President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in place as a magnet for extremists.
“Our relationship has to be built on trust, but the U.S. government hasn’t given us very many reasons to build up that trust,” said Omar Saqr, 25, the cultural center’s youth coordinator.
As the United States carries out yet another bombing campaign across two Islamic countries, the Obama administration is redoubling its efforts to stanch the flow of radicalized young Muslim Americans traveling to Syria to join the fight and potentially returning as well-trained militants to carry out attacks here.
American law enforcement and intelligence officials say more than 100 Americans have gone to Syria, or tried to so far. That number of Americans seeking to join militants, while still small, was never seen during the two major wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The threat of homegrown radicals like the Boston Marathon bombers has prompted the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to try to forge ties with community leaders and police departments as a front line in the war against a sophisticated online propaganda and recruiting effort mounted by the Islamic State.
But as administration officials attempt to accelerate their own lobbying campaign, they have found that security rules put in place to defend America from a terror attack have played a role in alienating young Muslim men and women — the exact group being courted by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Still, community leaders are so fearful their youths may follow the Islamic State’s propaganda that, during a 90-minute meeting with more than 60 local leaders, police officers and advocates, they pressed Mr. Johnson to prove the government is sincere in its offers of help.
Lila Al Sibai, a 28-year-old mother of three young children and a member of the cultural center’s board, asked for a $4 million federal grant to build a new gym and classrooms for the facility. “We need to have more activities for our youth,” she said after the meeting in this suburb of Columbus, which is the home of the country’s second-largest Somali-American community, behind only Minneapolis.
Mr. Saqr, the youth coordinator, suggested that Mr. Johnson’s agency offer a prize to the best countermessage to the Islamic State’s propaganda.
“Our youth are being hoodwinked and hijacked by their rhetoric,” he said. “We cannot just say ISIS is bad. That’s not an option. We need an outlet.”
And Hossam Musa, 34, the imam of the cultural center, which draws 4,000 to 5,000 people for Friday Prayer each week, proposed that the Department of Homeland Security hire authoritative Islamic scholars to help combat the Islamic State’s violent narrative.
“How do we beat ISIL? What’s our response to a young man wowed by their message? You beat them at their own game,” he said.
Mr. Johnson, the nation’s top homeland security official since December, was here as part of a community outreach tour that so far this year has taken him to the Chicago area, and will land him in Los Angeles, New York and other cities in the coming months.
His aim is to build partnerships between the federal government and the local law enforcement, educational and community groups that are better positioned to detect potential militants in their midst and to derail those young men and women from the path of radicalization before they turn violent.
These efforts have been underway since the Sept. 11 attacks, but have often failed to gain traction, government officials acknowledge.
“We can’t allow youth to fall prey to ISIL’s ideology,” Mr. Johnson said. “We need to provide them an alternative to rechannel their hopes and rechannel their passions.”
It is a clarion call also sounded by the F.B.I., the Justice Department and the National Counterterrorism Center, which together with Mr. Johnson’s agency recently started pilot programs in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.
The goal is to reach out to schools, health care providers and community groups to get their help in monitoring and deterring the radicalization of young people who may be susceptible to recruitment — like the two brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed four people last year.
The White House is sponsoring a meeting later this fall with specialists from across the country.
But even former top counterterrorism officials say the administration faces an uphill battle.
American officials have been able to identify Americans fighting for the Islamic State or other Syrian rebel groups based on intelligence gathered from travel records, family members, intercepted electronic communications, social media postings and surveillance of Americans overseas who had expressed interest in going to Syria, counterterrorism officials said.
But efforts at countering violent extremism, especially at home, “have lagged badly behind other counterterrorism pillars,” said Michael Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “It is heartening to see the administration attempt to invigorate those efforts, but it is unfortunate that it has, despite the efforts of many, been so long in coming.”
Government supporters question whether funds will be available to sustain these programs. “The administration has the right framework for doing this, but long-term success will depend on sustainable resourcing to help local government, communities and law enforcement build initiatives that can have impact,” said Quintan Wiktorowicz, a former senior White House aide who was one of the principal architects of the current strategy.
That strategy here at home, called countering violent extremism, has proved much more difficult for American officials to master than the ability of the Pentagon and spy agencies to identify, track, capture and, if necessary, kill terrorists overseas.
Among its efforts, the Department of Homeland Security provides training to help state and local law enforcement officials in identifying and countering the threat, including indicators of violent extremism and “lone wolf” attacks.
The department awarded the International Association of Chiefs of Police a $700,000 grant last year to develop training on how to prevent, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism.
The department has also sponsored exercises in seven cities, including Houston, Seattle, and Durham, N.C., to improve communication between local law enforcement and communities and to share ideas on how best to build community resilience against violent extremism. “We’re raising awareness,” said David Gersten, who was recently named the department’s coordinator for the overall effort.
Carter M. Stewart, the United States attorney in the Columbus area, said he and his staff meet regularly with Somali-American and other community leaders.
But Muslim advocates say there is deep suspicion that, despite all the meetings and the talk of outreach, the government’s main goal is to recruit informants to root out suspected terrorists.
“I don’t know how we can have a partnership with the same government that spies on you,” said Linda Sarsour, advocacy director for the National Network for Arab American Communities.
Indeed, those who met with Mr. Johnson were conflicted, some saying they were pleasantly surprised he had traveled here to put a face on the federal effort, but clearly embittered by their past experiences with the government.
Dr. Iyad Azrak, 37, a Syrian-American ophthalmologist, recounted how he and his family had been forced on numerous trips to Canada to wait for hours at border crossings while inspectors reviewed his records.
“Not once when we’re coming home do they say to me, ‘Welcome home,’ ” said Dr. Azrak, who said he has been a naturalized citizen for six years.
Biden Apologizes to Turkish President
by SEBNEM ARSU
ISTANBUL — A diplomatic rift between Turkey and the United States was patched over late Saturday after the American vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., officially apologized to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for remarks suggesting that Turkey helped facilitate the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group.
In remarks at Harvard University on Thursday, Mr. Biden said Mr. Erdogan had admitted erring in allowing foreign fighters to cross Turkey’s border into Syria, eventually leading to the formation of the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, said in an emailed statement that the two leaders spoke by phone on Saturday. “The vice president apologized for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria,” Ms. Barkoff said. “The United States greatly values the commitments and sacrifices made by our allies and partners from around the world to combat the scourge of ISIL, including Turkey.”
Earlier Saturday, Mr. Erdogan had demanded an apology, saying he had never made any such remark to Mr. Biden. “If Mr. Biden has said such a thing at Harvard, he needs to apologize to us,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters here.
Mr. Erdogan, despite widespread evidence to the contrary, denied that Turkey’s long, porous border had enabled thousands of militants to cross onto the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. “Foreign fighters never crossed into Syria from our country,” Mr. Erdogan said. “They would cross into Syria from Turkey on tourist passports, but nobody can claim that they have crossed with arms.”
Speaking at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mr. Biden said allies including Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had extended unconditional financial and logistical support to Sunni fighters trying to oust the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“President Erdogan told me,” he said, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, “ ‘You were right. We let too many people through. Now we are trying to seal the border.’
“Our allies poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against al-Assad,” he said, including jihadists planning to join the Nusra Front and Al Qaeda.
Mr. Biden also praised the Turkish parliamentary vote on Thursday that authorized cross-border operations into Syria and Iraq to tackle militants from the Islamic State and would allow foreign forces to use Turkish territory for incursions.
“It took a while for Turkey, a Sunni nation, to figure out that ISIL was a direct and immediate threat to their well-being,” Mr. Biden was quoted as saying.
Facing mounting international criticism about lax border controls, Ankara has stepped up the sharing of intelligence with allies in recent months to update a no-entry list with 6,000 names, government officials say.
In September, Turkey agreed to join an American-led coalition against the Islamic State, but declined to sign a communiqué calling for military action because the group was holding 46 Turkish citizens as hostages.
After the hostages were released in a covert intelligence operation, Turkey gained more flexibility in addressing the threat.
Instead of making a firm military commitment, however, Mr. Erdogan on Saturday underlined the importance of setting up a buffer and no-fly zone inside Syria to prevent an influx of refugees, and called for training and equipment for moderate Syrian opposition forces.