CINCINNATI — The new head of the FBI's wide-ranging Cincinnati division says the threat of homegrown terrorists in her native state is surprising and scary.
Angela Byers became special agent in charge of the office that covers 48 of Ohio's 88 counties in late February, just after back-to-back arrests of young men in Cincinnati and Columbus in separate cases alleging they were plotting attacks in the United States. Both have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Byers told The Associated Press in an interview she was surprised at the threat level in Ohio, and she suspects many people in the Midwest don't realize that "violent extremists" can pop up anywhere.
"It's scary. And it's scary to us. I'm not sure the general public quite gets the gravity of it," she said.
She said counterterrorism efforts are ongoing in her office, although she couldn't comment on any possible other cases.
"It seems like once we get one guy, another guy pops up high on the radar," she said. "We just keep moving from one to the next."
The cases that broke this year in her division were the arrests of Christopher Lee Cornell, of suburban Cincinnati, on charges he planned to attack the U.S. Capitol, and Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, 23, of Columbus, accused of planning to attack a military base or prison after returning from terrorist training in Syria.
Mark Ensalaco, the director of human rights research at the University of Dayton, who has written about Middle East terrorism and the Sept. 11 attacks, said trying to detect homegrown "lone wolves" before they act is "a nightmare for national security." But he said use of confidential informants and federal electronic surveillance can raise concerns about protecting citizens' rights.
Byers said she knows people are worried about privacy, but said the FBI has legal parameters to meet before it would monitor suspected "bad guys." Electronic surveillance also has limitations because of the extremists' use of secure and encrypted communication channels.
"So it's more important than ever now for us to get cooperation from the public," she said, adding that family and friends are more able to recognize changes in behavior, adopting of radical views and support for terrorist groups and acts.
The 25-year FBI special agent from Shadyside, in eastern Ohio, came to Cincinnati from FBI headquarters, where she headed the financial crimes section of the Criminal Investigative Division.
In other FBI posts, she has investigated financial fraud, health care fraud, public corruption and drug crimes, among assignments.
She said she hopes to further strengthen the FBI's good ties to state and local authorities in the region, and plans ride-alongs with police in Warren and Hamilton counties in southwest Ohio. She said such cooperation will help efforts to fight the region's serious problems with heroin, and she also wants to learn about other issues.
"They (local police) can point out to me what their concerns are and where we might be interested in knowing things that are going on in their territory," she said.
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