by Dish Staff
Not at the moment, according to someone who ought to know:
The United States’ senior counterterrorism official said on Wednesday that there is “no credible information” that the militants of the Islamic State, who have reigned terror on Iraq and Syria, are planning to attack the U.S. homeland. Although the group could pose a threat to the United States if left unchecked, any plot it tried launching today would be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack.” That assessment by National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen stands in sharp contrast to dire warnings from other top Obama administration officials, who depict the group formerly known as ISIS or ISIL as the greatest threat to America since al Qaeda before it struck U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001.
Zack Beauchamp downplays the threat posed by American jihadists who travel to Syria and Iraq, noting that few of them come home to plot attacks, and they are pretty easy to catch when they do:
“We’re going to know who these guys are, and we’re going to watch them closely as they transit home,” Will McCants, director of the Project on US Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, told me. McCants admits that’s it’s hard to catch ISIS volunteers on their way to Syria or Iraq. However, it’s much, much easier to identify them on their way home.
“Once they’ve gone in,” McCants says, “US intelligence is going to find them.” Partly that’s because the US and other Western countries are obsessive about monitoring their borders and are keenly aware of this threat, but it’s also because jihadis love to talk on social media. “I’ve been told by people in US intel that publicly posted statements in Twitter are an absolute gold mine,” he says.
The Atlantic Ocean is the US’ friend here. Airports have the most “robust systems” for detecting returning fighters, according to McCants. It’s very hard to get back to the United States from Iraq or Syria without flying, and ISIS veterans who check in an airport will likely get detected pretty quickly. Once that happens, their numbers are small enough that US intelligence and law enforcement will be able to keep a very close eye on them.
John Cassidy, meanwhile, looks into where Western jihadists come from and what motivates them:
Shiraz Maher, a senior fellow at the I.C.S.R., divides the Western recruits into three types: adventure-seekers, idealists, and devoted jihadis. In each case, there is a common factor—the intoxicating appeal of radical Islam, with its promise of empowerment through a new beginning (and, in the case of ISIS, the establishment of a new state). As Maher pointed out last weekend in the Wall Street Journal, ISIS, through its strong social-media presence and, especially, its military success, has exerted a special attraction. “Other organizations didn’t have the same glamour,” Maher said. “And we’re dealing with young men. They want to be with a strong horse, with a winning team. At the moment, ISIS has momentum.”
Reversing ISIS’s gains could conceivably change all of this. And Maher, for one, doesn’t believe the situation to be hopeless. Until 2005, and the London subway bombings, he was himself a member of a radical Islamic group, Hizbut Tahrir, which operates inside of Britain and supports the formation of a global and puritanical Islamic state. Since the bombings, he and other moderate British Muslims have been campaigning against the jihadis, and the would-be jihadis, with some success. At one time, Maher told the Journal, Hizbut Tahrir rallies could draw twenty thousand supporters, but these days “they struggle to get one thousand.”