The ISIS threat to US citizens has surpassed even that posed by al-Qaida, FBI head James Comey warned.
The growing threat of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) terrorism in the US has surpassed that of al-Qaida, FBI chief James Comey warned, as US security agencies continue to track down individuals who were influenced by ISIS and plan to act on their radical ideology.
The terror group’s efforts to inspire Americans to violence have become more dangerous than an external attack by al-Qaeda, the FBI director cautioned Wednesday.
FBI Director James Comey told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum that ISIS, which has proclaimed a Muslim caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who cannot travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”
Twitter handles affiliated with the group have more than 21,000 English-language followers worldwide, he said, thousands of whom may be US residents.
The FBI has arrested a significant number of people over the past eight weeks who have in some way expressed support or exhibited tendencies to follow ISIS, Comey said, without specifying a number.
He repeated his previous disclosure, without elaborating, that several people were arrested and were planning attacks related to the July Fourth holiday. The bureau has hundreds of investigations into such cases across the country.
Seeking Explanations, Searching for Loose Ends
Comey said it was too soon to say how Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the Chattanooga terrorist who killed five US troops last week, was influenced by ISIS.
Abdulazeez’s relatives claimed he had a history of drug use and depression and tried to pin it on that. Comey noted that “the people the Islamic State is trying to reach are people that al-Qaida would never use as an operative, because they are often unstable, troubled drug users.”
Asked if the threat from ISIS had eclipsed that of the rival organization that attacked the US on September 11, 2001, Comey said, “Yes.”
US security agencies have tracked dozens of Americans, ranging in age from 18 to 62, who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight with the Islamic State, he said.
“I worry very much about what I can’t see,” Comey added, because ISIS recruiters use encrypted communication software to avoid US eavesdropping.
Comey has sounded the alarm about domestic radicalization before, but his remarks Wednesday signal a deepening concern among US officials about the impact of the Islamic State’s effort to inspire terrorist violence.
As recently as September, senior US intelligence officials were downplaying the group’s capacity to attack the US. Matt Olsen, then head of the National Counter Terrorism Center, told Congress in September that the US had “no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the United States.”
Intelligence officials last year were saying they worry most about a mass casualty attack against a US airliner by al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, or by the Khorasan terror Group, a cadre of al-Qaida operatives in Syria.
Comey said Wednesday that the threat from the Khorasan Group has been “significantly diminished” by US military strikes.
The Pentagon on Tuesday announced that it had killed the Khorasan Group’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, in a July 8 airstrike in Syria.
By: AP and United with Israel Staff
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