Stopping Terrorism 'One Child At a Time'

The foundation is named "Saving the Next Generation."

Its mission is to do just that.

"They teach us to be more open-minded and to be friends with anyone, not because of their religion, but their personality," says Abbas Kazan, a 19-year-old college student from Lebanon who is studying at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, N.Y.

"If you join extremist groups you are already a terrorist and an international criminal, so you should look forward to your future and should study," says another freshman from Lebanon, 18-year-old Ali Shour.

Abbas and Ali are two foreign students sent to the United States by Saving the Next Generation, also known as SNG, as part of its mission to turn young Middle Eastern men away from the allure of radical terrorist groups, like ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah.

"The foundation is set up to fight extremism," says founder Ahmad El Assaad, a Lebanese businessman and leader of the country's Option party, which opposes Hezbollah. He started the foundation with his wife, Abir.

"These kids, if SNG didn't take them early on and put them under our umbrella, maybe some of them would have become terrorists because they had no other option in life."

The foundation runs summer camps and day trips in Lebanon for children ages 10 to 18, and sends others like Ali and Abbas to Lebanese Universities or the United States to study. It is an opportunity to expose young minds from the Middle East to American values and help them spread the ideals of democracy and tolerance instead of falling under extremist beliefs like so many other terrorist recruits.

"It is very easy to be influenced by these radicals and extremists and terrorists if you hear their story and propaganda day in and day out, if you do not hear something else, something fresh and realistic," notes El Assaad.

"Once these kids stay in that environment, it is impossible for them to be able to understand, really, how the world functions. They have to get out of that environment and this is what we do."

El Assaad says the terrorist groups simply provide easy money for disaffected young males, and that the programs his foundation offers provide a positive alternative. So far more than 1,500 young people have taken part, and learned the group's four guiding principles of "life, liberty, peace and opportunity."

"SNG saved my life," says 19-year-old Mustapha Gharib, a mechanical engineering student at the New York Institute of Technology. He attended the foundation's camp program in Lebanon and has just completed his first year of studies on Long Island.

He was surprised at the openness and acceptance he found in America.

"People in Lebanon, they think about the United States as an evil country that wants to conquer all the world," he says. "When I go to Lebanon I talk to my friends and they ask me how is America, how were the people over there, and what I say is that America is not what you think. 

"It's more civilized than our country, more tolerant than our country, there are a lot of differences...I say to people that think that America is evil, is don't be a hypocrites, don't put an idea in your mind and keep it closed...just be open-minded, have a broader mind and be tolerant."

Gharib and El Assaad say that the key to overcoming the terrorists' philosophy is education.

"The extremists recruit young men from impoverished, modest, poor backgrounds, because when a young man reaches a certain age and he has no education, no job, no hope for the future, it is very easy for a radical group to come along and tell him, 'this is a Kalashnikov, go fight this group or that group,'" he notes.

"But when the same young man has an education, has a job, a decent job and raises a family and lives good, and then you come along and say to him 'take a Kalashnikov, go fight,' he'll tell you 'no, I have better things to do'...we tell them they have to study, you have to do good at school because once they find decent jobs, they will be free of the radicals."

El Assaad warns that "as long as these young men don't have an alternative path, there will always be people like ISIS, they'll always be groups like ISIS that are able to easily recruit a big number of young men."

SNG is working to counter that recruitment, and hopes to expand its programs and send more young students to the United States. It recently held its second annual gala, at the Yale Club in New York City, to attract more support.

The foundation's effort, says El Assaad, is to "fight terrorism one child at a time."

Ben Evansky contributed to this report.


Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnTV