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President Barack Obama has decided to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and he made the case for the increase in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
"I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama said. "This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.
"This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al-Qaida can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al-Qaida, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region."
An alert reader asked us about Obama's comments on capturing extremists in the United States who had been sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He was apparently referring to the case of Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Colorado resident whom authorities arrested on Sept. 19, 2009. Zazi was charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
Authorities say Zazi received training from al-Qaida in Pakistan on how to build explosives and was constructing a bomb from chemicals he purchased at a beauty supply shop in Colorado. Zazi then traveled to New York City on Sept. 10 "in furtherance of the criminal plan," according to the Justice Department. Authorities say he left the city after being tipped off that he was under surveillance; he was arrested a short time later.
Zazi is actually a legal resident of the United States. His family arrived in the United States in the early 1990s, according to news reports, and Zazi went to high school in New York City, speaks fluent English, and ran a coffee cart for several years in lower Manhattan. Zazi has traveled to Pakistan several times to visit friends and family, and authorities say it was during his last trip at the end of 2008 that Zazi went to an al-Qaida-run training camp and received instructions in explosives and weapons.
His attorney said Zazi did travel to Pakistan and purchase items at the supply shop, but neither of those activities are illegal, and that the government has not indicted anyone else to prove charges of conspiracy. (Zazi's father and another man were arrested on charges of lying to investigators.) Prosecutors told a judge on Dec. 3 that they expect to file additional charges soon.
Obama said during his speech, "In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror." Is it fair to say Zazi was "sent here" from the border region? We could argue this point, since Zazi lived in the United States for many years, but it seems trivial: If people receive training in al-Qaida camps in the border region to commit acts of terror, does it really matter if they were originally from that region or just visiting temporarily? We'll note here for clarity's sake that Zazi was a U.S. resident who allegedly visited the training camps before returning to the United States.
We don't believe it's quite accurate for Obama to flatly state that the arrested men were intent on committing "new acts of terror" when the trial has not yet started. In fact, there are many questions surrounding the case, most notably who Zazi's co-conspirators might have been. The other two men arrested so far were charged with lying to investigators, not committing acts of terror. If a court had convicted Zazi, we would likely rate Obama's statement True. The Justice Department is backing Obama's statement, but these men have not been convicted. Given that, we rate Obama's statement Mostly True.
U.S. Department of Justice,
Najibullah Zazi Indicted for Conspiracy
, Sept. 24, 2009
U.S. Department of Justice, Najibullah Zazi Indictment , Sept. 24, 2009
U.S. Department of Justice, Najibullah Zazi - Government's detention memo , Sept. 24, 2009
National Public Radio, Facts And Fictions About Alleged Zazi Plot , Sept. 28, 2009
New York Times, Topics: Najibullah Zazi
The Associated Press, Terror training camps smaller, harder to target , Nov. 9, 2009
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