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Deputy U.S. Attorney General visits Utah to talk terror, crime fighting

SALT LAKE CITY — While fewer Americans are leaving the country to join terror groups in other parts of the world, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said other viable and serious threats to the country have risen in their stead.

"The decline in the number of Americans who seek to travel to join ISIS is a positive development," Rosenstein said. "But a word of caution is in order. Some people who would have left America now pose a danger here instead. Some foreign fighters have left ISIS territory to find new battlefields and new targets.

"Returning foreign fighters can present significant security risks because of their ideology, combat training and connections to terrorist networks," he said.

Rosenstein visited Utah Wednesday, addressing participants at an annual anti-terrorism conference and attending a press conference where he pledged his support of U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber in the fight against rapidly rising violent crime in the state.

Rosenstein was nominated by President Donald Trump shortly after he took office in January and was confirmed by the Senate in April. Behind U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rosenstein is the No. 2 law enforcement officer in the country.

He brought a message of appreciation on behalf of Trump and Sessions to the crowd of approximately 600 federal, state and local law enforcement officers gathered at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel for a two-day security and anti-terrorism conference.

Rosenstein also spoke about the continued threat of domestic terrorists and a strong anti-police ideological thread among some of those groups that have led to the targeting of law enforcement officers.

"In June 2014, two Las Vegas police officers were killed during an ambush attack while eating lunch," Rosenstein said. "During the attacks, they declared the beginning of a so-called revolution. There are many other examples of attacks by criminals fueled by a pernicious anti-police ideology – Dallas, New York, Baton Rouge, Kissimmee and other tragedies."

He also cited the xenophobia that is sometimes the motivating factor in domestic terror actions.

"Last October, three suspects were indicted on federal charges for a plot to target an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, where Somali immigrants live and worship," Rosenstein said. "In Charlottesville this month, we saw and heard people openly advocate racism and bigotry. Our Department of Justice responded immediately."

On a more local front, Rosenstein and Huber appeared at a joint press conference late Wednesday morning and spoke about issues specific to the Beehive State. Huber noted that while the country has seen a 3-5 percent rise in violent crime (according to statistics from 2015, the last period for which data is available), the uptick in Utah's reported violent crimes of over 13 percent is much more concerning.

"If 3-5 percent is an alarm bell for the rest of the U.S., then 13 percent in Utah is the phone ringing off the hook," Huber said.

Rosenstein noted that it is federal prosecutors' role to assist local law enforcement agencies, whose officers make up 85 percent of law enforcement personnel in the state, in addressing the rising crime rate.

"John has tasked his prosecutors to work with local authorities," Rosenstein said. "We can help by bringing the federal tools to bear on incarcerating repeat offenders."

In his conference speech, Rosenstein acknowledged the critical role that local law enforcement plays in both battling crime in their jurisdictions and being on the front lines of the work to prevent domestic terror incidents. Vigilance, Rosenstein said, was key.

"We must never let down our guard, because our enemies do not fight fair," Rosenstein said. "Terrorists are cowards who target unsuspecting people going about their lives — watching a soccer game, dancing at a nightclub, traveling to work, walking down a street.

"Our mission to keep our neighbors and our communities safe remains the same. And the bravery that you bring to that mission endures."