US intelligence: Isis militants drawing steady stream of recruits

February 12, 2015 4:32 am

The bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria has failed to slow the pace
of foreign fighters flocking to join the Islamic State and other
extremist groups, including at least 3,400 from Western nations among
20,000 from around the world, US intelligence officials say in an
updated estimate of a top concern.
Intelligence
agencies now believe that as many as 150 Americans have tried and some
have succeeded in reaching the Syrian war zone, officials told the House
Homeland Security Committee Wednesday. Some of those Americans were
arrested en route, some died in the area and a small number were still
fighting with extremists.

As many as 150 Americans have tried and some have succeeded in reaching the Syrian war zone. Photo / AP
Nick Rasmussen, chief of the National
Counterterrorism Center, said the rate of foreign fighter travel to
Syria is without precedent, far exceeding the rate of foreigners who
went to wage jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia at
any other point in the past 20 years.

US officials fear that some of the foreign fighters will
return undetected to their homes in Europe or the US to mount terrorist
attacks. At least one of the men responsible for the attack on a
satirical magazine in Paris had spent time with Islamic extremists in
Yemen.
Officials acknowledge it has been hard to track the
Americans and Europeans who have made it to Syria, where the Islamic
State group is the dominant force trying to overthrow the government of
President Bashar Assad. The US Embassy in Syria is closed, and the CIA
has no permanent presence on the ground.
“Once in Syria, it is
very difficult to discern what happens there,” Michael Steinbach, the
FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, told the committee. “This
lack of clarity remains troubling.”
The estimate of 20,000
fighters, from 90 countries, is up from 19,000, Rasmussen said. The
number of Americans or U.S. residents who have gone or tried to go is up
to 150 from 50 a year ago and 100 in the fall.
Michael McCaul,
the Republican who chairs the committee, said the Syrian war had created
“the largest convergence of Islamist in world history.”
Sustained bombing by a US-led coalition has not stopped the inflow, he
noted.
McCaul’s committee staff compiled from public sources a
list of 18 U.S. citizens or residents who joined or attempted to join
the Islamic State group, and 18 others who tried to or succeeded in
joining other violent Islamic groups.
The list includes three
Chicago teens and three Denver teens who were radicalised and recruited
online and were arrested after attempting to travel to Syria to join
Islamic State fighters. It also includes Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, a
Californian who died in August while fighting with the Islamic State
group near Aleppo.
US intelligence officials do not make public
their estimate of how many Americans currently are fighting in Syria and
Iraq. In September, FBI director James Comey said it was “about a
dozen.”
Francis X. Taylor, who heads the Homeland Security
Department’s intelligence office, said intelligence agencies are
“unaware of any specific, credible, imminent threat to the homeland.”
However,
he said, officials are concerned that Americans who join violent
extremist groups in Syria “could gain combat skills, violent extremist
connections and possibly become persuaded to conduct organized or
‘lone-wolf’ style attacks that target US and Western interests. We also
have become increasingly aware of the possibility that Syria could
emerge as a base of operations for al-Qaeda’s international agenda,
which could include attacks against the homeland.

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