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By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced a new effort Monday to disrupt foreign terrorist cells from recruiting Americans, including a program to identify radicals who hold U.S. passports and are associated with the militant group Islamic State.

The aim is to identify and stop Americans before they join the ranks of terrorist groups overseas or return from abroad with plans to strike in this country, Holder said in a video message on the Justice Department’s website.

“We have established processes for detecting American extremists who attempt to join terror groups abroad,” he said.

He added that Justice Department officials will step up their efforts working with local law enforcement agencies and community networks, building upon about 1,700 meetings already held in the last two years. He also announced a White House conference next month to deal with “Countering Violent Extremism.”

Holder’s “pilot program” comes two months after his remarks during a law enforcement conference in Norway, where the attorney general said about 7,000 foreign fighters, including dozens of Americans, have streamed into Syria to take up arms there. The growing concern for the United States and other countries is that many of these fighters will return home with valid passports and an eagerness to spread their radicalism.

“In the face of a threat so grave, we cannot afford to be passive,” he said in Oslo.

In the Justice Department video Monday, Holder echoed that concern, invoking last week’s 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the growing menace of Islamic State, which had seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and beheaded three Westerners.

AFP Photo/Al Seib

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