WASHINGTON – One out of four young U.S. Muslims believe homicide bombings against civilians are OK to "defend Islam," according to a new poll.
The study found that among the nation's younger Muslims, 26 percent say homicide bombings can at least rarely be justified "in order to defend Islam from its enemies."
"It is a hair-raising number," said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, which promotes the compatibility of Islam with democracy.
The poll briefly describes the rationales for and against "suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets" and then asks, "Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?"
Younger U.S. Muslims under the age of 30 are much more willing to accept homicide bombing in the defense of Islam than are their older counterparts, the study found. While 69 percent of Muslims under 30 say homicide bombings are never justified, 2 percent say they're often justified, 13 percent say bombings are sometimes justified and 11 percent say they are rarely justified. Only 9 percent of older U.S. Muslims said homicide attacks are at least rarely justified.
In addition to young Muslims' attitudes towards homicide bombings, the study found that only 40 percent of U.S. Muslims believe that Arabs carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Another 28 percent said they don't believe it.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, 53 percent said it's been more difficult to be Muslim in America.
The Pew poll also found that almost half of the nation's Muslims are more likely to identify themselves as Muslims first and then Americans, with 47 percent placing religious affiliation above nationality.
Three out of four people surveyed said the decision to go to war in Iraq was wrong, and 48 percent said using force in Afghanistan was wrong. Five percent of those surveyed had a "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable" view of Al Qaeda, while 58 percent had a "very unfavorable" opinion of the terror group.
But the study also found that most of the nation's Muslim community is "largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world."
The poll also found that U.S. Muslims reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries.
In Pew surveys last year, support in some Muslim countries exceeded 50 percent, while it was considered justifiable by about one in four Muslims in Britain and Spain, and one in three in France.
"We have crazies just like other faiths have them," said Eide Alawan, who directs interfaith outreach at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., one of the nation's largest mosques. He said killing innocent people contradicts Islam.
The survey included more than 1,000 of the nation's estimated 2.35 million Muslims and was conducted in English and several foreign languages.
Andrew Kohut, Pew director, said in an interview that support for the attacks represented "one of the few trouble spots" in the survey.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.