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Published: Friday, 5/27/2011

Toledo and terrorism

The guilty pleas this week by a Toledo couple to charges that they conspired to send $200,000 in cash to the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah in Lebanon offer a stark reminder that our community is not immune from terrorist activity.

But that knowledge must not be allowed to become a blanket indictment of Arab or Muslim-Americans in northwest Ohio, who are no less law-abiding or patriotic than other citizens. The emphasis must remain on the real threats posed by terrorism, foreign and domestic.

Police and prosecutors say defendant Hor Akl claimed to have taken money to Lebanon that would be used to target Israel. He faces as much as 87 months in prison; his wife, Amera Akl, could be sentenced to as much as 46 months.

R. Richard Newcomb, a former Toledoan who headed the Treasury Department's office of foreign assets control from 1987 to 2004, told a local audience last week that depriving terror networks of funding through economic sanctions and other controls remains an effective weapon, if it is coordinated with broader diplomatic efforts. That's why prosecutions such as the one that led to this week's guilty pleas are vital.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last week that Toledo will not be eligible to apply during the next fiscal year for an "Urban Areas Security Initiative" grant to pay for anti-terrorism equipment and training.

It's reassuring that federal officials do not consider Toledo at risk of a terrorist attack in the same way that, say, New York or Washington is -- or, for that matter, Cleveland and Cincinnati, which remain eligible to compete for the grants.

Toledo got grant money after the 9/11 attacks but was excluded in 2007. The city used previous funding to, among other things, buy an armored vehicle used by special-response officers.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says next year's grants focus "on the areas that face the greatest risk." Because of federal budget cuts, the number of cities eligible for the grants will fall from more than 60 to 31.

That makes sense. In previous years, federal funding often seemed based on pork-barrel considerations rather than genuine terrorist threats. Targeting the aid better will improve security while reducing costs.

Toledo will remain eligible for federal homeland-security grants administered by the state. Meanwhile, the city's removal from the eligibility list for the urban-security grants does not mean it should relax its vigilance or preparedness.

It does mean that the city will have to rely more on its own resources to strengthen its physical infrastructure and otherwise work to prevent terrorism. As on many other issues, greater cooperation with other communities in the region to combat terrorism can work to the mutual benefit of city and suburbs.

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, Toledoans will face other reminders of the continuing threat of terrorism. In an important bit of symbolism, the Wauseon Fire Department will get a piece of structural steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to use in a 9/11 memorial.

Wherever that display finally arises, it can provide a source of both memory and unity. It can and should remind northwest Ohioans that maintaining our commitment to a pluralistic, tolerant, inclusive community remains our best defense against terrorism.



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