Jacksonville, FL - With a Jacksonville teen now indicted on terrorism-related charges, one of the men who reported him to law enforcement says the threat in the local community still exists.
The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida was first alerted about 19-year-old Shelton Bell when, about a year ago, a member told them he was concerned Bell was trying to recruit his son for violent actions and traveling overseas for a “jihad”.
“That was concerning enough for us to report it to the law enforcement authorities,” says Center Board of Trustees Member Parvez Ahmed.
Ahmed tells me in his 18 months on the Board, he has never had to deal with a potential threat like Bell, and they decided it was best for the FBI to determine whether the threat was credible, and act accordingly.
“If this was just innocent, harmless conversation, then let them make a judgment on that,” he says.
While Ahmed never personally interacted with Bell, he tells me he saw him on many occasions at worship services at the Center. While Bell was not a member of the Center, the worship is open to everyone.
Ahmed says he always stood out, but they just attributed that to the fact that Bell was a teenager. When they heard the concerning conversations he was having with other teens, however, they made a point to take him seriously.
“That escalates in to conversations about violence, and violence in the name of religion, then obviously we draw a red line,” he says.
In the federal indictment given up regarding Bell, there are multiple allegations of his recruitment efforts and intent to recruit for “violent actions which he called a ‘jihad’,” which is something Ahmed tells me they watch closely for.
“We have been concerned about radicalization of young people,” he says.
But Ahmed believes the Center is in a good spot to be able to detect and handle those potential threats. He says the open line of communication they have with worshippers worked well in this case, because the teen talking with Bell was comfortable enough to tell his father, who was then comfortable enough to tell the Board.
He says they continue to educate members on the warning signs to watch for to detect if their children are becoming radicalized- either through their own path or through recruitment by others. Despite that, Ahmed believes there is still a possibility that other Jacksonville teens hold similar beliefs and intentions as Bell allegedly holds. He says the Center will be proactive on any suspicion brought to them.