Devlin Barrett / The Wall Street Journal – 2015-03-13 01:25:13
Lawmakers Told Islamic State Isn’t Terror Threat on US Soil
Republicans Disagree With Counterterrorism Officials’ Assessment
Devlin Barrett / The Wall Street Journal
(September 10, 2014) — Islamic State militants aren’t yet capable of carrying out attacks on US soil, Obama administration counterterrorism officials said Wednesday, an assessment that Republican lawmakers challenged.
The senior officials testified before the Senate committee overseeing homeland security, where lawmakers pressed them on their assessment of the Islamic State group controlling parts of Iraq and Syria, often referred to as ISIS or ISIL.
“The greatest threat from ISIL to the US and its interests is inside Iraq right now,” said Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Left unchecked, he warned, the geographic range of ISIL plotting is “likely to grow.”
As the hearing drew to a close, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), challenged the assessment that Islamic State didn’t currently pose a threat to US soil, saying it has the money, the ideology and, based on some of its public statements, an interest in launching attacks directly against the US “I’m concerned it’s an understatement to say it’s a regional threat,” she said.
Mr. Rasmussen replied: “Right now, we assess they do not have active ongoing plots aimed at the US homeland . . . . I don’t mean by any means to minimize the threat.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson echoed Mr. Rasmussen’s remarks in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. “Though we know of no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland at present, we know that ISIL is prepared to kill innocent Americans they encounter because they are Americans,” Mr. Johnson said.
The group posed such a threat to US interests and those of its allies that “the only responsible thing to do is to take them on before they become even more dangerous,” he said. “This type of terrorist threat simply has to be engaged,” he continued. “You can’t avoid it.”
Authorities believe more than 100 Americans have traveled or tried to travel to Syria to engage in the fighting there, raising concerns among security officials that those individuals could return someday to conduct attacks on US soil. Similar concerns were raised in 2009 and 2010 about young men traveling to Somalia to join the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains the terror group with the greatest ability to launch attacks directly at America, Mr. Rasmussen said. US counterterrorism officials blame it for numerous plots in recent years against Americans, including a Christmas 2009 plan to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit.
Officials said terror groups haven’t developed the capability to conduct hacking attacks on US interests, but said it is possible they could try in the future.
During a separate hearing at a House subcommittee on border security on Wednesday, Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said Islamic State “is the biggest threat to the homeland.”
Also Wednesday, a 19-year-old woman pleaded guilty in Denver to conspiring to support a terror group, after federal agents stopped her from allegedly trying to travel to Syria in April.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Shannon Conley had sought to do medical work for Islamic State militants, and had planned to marry a man fighting for the group.
Under the terms of her plea deal, she will help authorities find others with similar intentions to join the fight in Syria, in the hopes reducing a potential five-year prison sentence.
Andrew Grossman contributed to this article
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