FBI: ISIS is a bigger threat than al-Qaeda

2015-07-23 09:58
FBI Director James Comey testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster, AP)

FBI Director James Comey testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster, AP)

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Aspen - ISIS's effort to inspire troubled Americans to violence has become more of a terror threat to the US than an external attack by al-Qaeda, the FBI director said on Wednesday.

FBI Director James Comey told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum that ISIS, which has proclaimed a 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 can't 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 last eight weeks who had been radicalised, Comey said, without specifying a number. He repeated his previous disclosure, without elaborating, that several people were arrested who were planning attacks related to the July Fourth holiday. The bureau has hundreds of investigations pending into such cases across the country.

No credible information

Comey said it was too soon to say how Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the Chattanooga gunman who killed five US troops last week, became radicalised.

Abdulazeez's relatives have said he had a history of drug use and depression. Comey noted that "the people the ISIS is trying to reach are people that al-Qaeda 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 organisation that attacked the US on September 11, Comey said, "Yes."

The US has tracked dozens of Americans, ranging in age from 18 to 62, who have travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight with ISIS, he said.

"I worry very much about what I can't see," Comey added, because he said ISIS recruiters use encrypted communication software to avoid US eavesdropping.

Comey has sounded the alarm about domestic radicalisation before, but his remarks on Wednesday signal a deepening concern among US officials about the impact of the ISIS'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 the head of the National Counter Terrorism Centre, told Congress in September that the US had "no credible information that ISIS 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-Qaeda's Yemen affiliate, or by the Khorasan Group, a cadre of al-Qaeda operatives in Syria.

But Comey said Wednesday 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.

Read more on:    fbi  |  al-qaeda  |  isis  |  us  |  security

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