WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) -- New York Congressman Peter King was less than 24 hours away from leading controversial hearings on Muslim extremists in the U.S.
He promised they will be honest and fair, and stressed they were about national security.
"The reasons the hearings are focusing on the Muslim community - the president's own national security advisor said al Qaeda is attempting to radicalize the Muslim-American community," King said.
The Long Island lawmaker cited recent events such as the arrests of Faisal Shazad, who admitted to trying to bomb Times Square, and Army Major Nidal Hassan, the accused Fort Hood shooter, as proof there are dangerous elements within America's borders.
A key witness at Thursday's congressional hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims said the hearings are an important first step in preventing homegrown terrorism, reports CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.
"There are a number if imams that are telling Muslims this government is against Islam," Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Foundation for Democracy, said.
When he testifies before the Homeland Security Committee, Dr. Jasser said he will demand that Muslim religious leaders foster respect for America, rather than nurturing Islamic radicalism.
On Thursday, King will lead the congressional hearings, and critics within Congress were concerned.
"You're setting a tone of blame and collective guilt, and you're thwarting the very thing you say you want to achieve, which is greater public safety," Rep. Keith Ellison, who will testify at the hearings, said.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the ACLU, and other groups held a news conference Wednesday morning to condemn the hearings.
"Rep. King's two main allegations – that American Muslims do not cooperate with law enforcement, and that 80 to 85 percent of their leadership are extremist – are demonstrably false," Nihad Awad, national director for CAIR, said.
While some charge that the hearings are a witch hunt, Dr. Jasser said they are the fist step in a public safety campaign to stop homegrown terrorism.
"We have to walk it back, not just from the violence, but from where it starts and at the core," Dr. Jasser said. "There are some teachers telling Muslims that they can't identify with this nation, and until we fix that, we won't see a solution to radicalization."
The White House was treading lightly, but fears isolating Muslims.
"We are all in this together as Americans, and Muslim-Americans are part of the solution here. They're not the problem," said Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary.
King's supporters said terrorist conspiracies were real and increasing.
"Name another religion where there is an international coordinated effort today, where there can be an imam in Yemen talking to a member of our military in Texas," said Jordan Sekulow, director of policy at the American Center for Law and Justice.
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