After a weekend of terrorism in Denmark and Libya, the White House's three-day "Summit on Countering Violent Extremism" will begin Tuesday with the Obama administration still declining to focus on any single group responsible for global problems.
While the Islamic State and other terror groups will be one aspect of the discussion, the conference will also focus on international cooperation from both governments and private sector and using social media to present another narrative to young people who are being recruited by terror groups, the White House said.
"The agenda is not entirely focused on ISIL itself," a senior administration official said Monday. "That's the near-term threat we all are focused on, but we also recognize that in the United States there have been violent extremist that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. So the agenda for all three days is going to show a wide array of combatting radicalization, violent extremism and terrorism in its many forms."
When questions came up several times during a conference call with reporters, a senior administration official said the discussion will include other violent organization such as FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The official didn’t name additional violent groups.
Another official said the Obama administration recognized that many groups call themselves Muslims, but stated: “We are not treating these people as part of a religion, we are treating them as terrorists.”
The first day of the conference will focus on domestic response at the national level to violent extremist groups. The second day will focus on local community response, and include state and local law enforcement. The third day will focus on how nations can work together to combat extremist groups, and include foreign ministers and representatives from the United Nations and the European Union gathered at the State Department.
President Barack Obama will deliver remarks at the summit Wednesday focused on domestic and international efforts to prevent radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad. Obama will also speak Thursday at the State Department on the summit’s final day.
This summit is designed to make all stakeholders aware of the problems they face and what role they can play. Another key aspect of the summit will be countering the Islamic State and other terror groups, in social media. The Islamic State has been able to recruit both Americans and Europeans, mostly youth, through social media. The administration is seeking help from the private sector shape a counter narrative.
In a video released Sunday titled, "The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egypt church," Islamic State-affiliated militants appeared to behead 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt.
The White House statement that followed called the beheadings “heinous” but did not identify the victims as Christians. An initial White House statement about Saturday's events in Denmark did not call the attack "terrorism," though a subsequent one did.
The gunman in Copenhagen first attacked a free speech event featuring an artist who has caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, killing a Danish filmmaker, then opened fire at a synagogue, killing a security guard. The suspect, identified as Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, was subsequently killed in a shootout with police.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest previously said that “foreign fighters” would be the focus of the conference, not any one group of potential terrorists. Earnest previously said the White House does not use the phrase “radical Islam” to describe the Islamic State and other self-identified Muslim terrorist groups because it would not be accurate.
In an interview last week, Obama did not identify the perpetrators or the victims when describing a terrorist attack on a French Kosher deli.
“It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” Obama said. After some initial difficulty in the press briefing trying to defend the president’s use of “randomly,” Earnest later clarified that the White House believes the attack was the result of anti-Semitism.