Shortly before the White House began dropping bombs on Syria yesterday, the White House confirmed that some of the estimated 100 Americans who have gone to the Middle East to join terrorist groups like the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS) have returned to the United States.
Discussing National Counterterrorism Center (NCC) activity, an unnamed senior administration official said the FBI is looking at "those who've gone, those who've tried to go, some who've come back."
How many are there? The administration official couldn't say. But, two weeks ago, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) claimed the FBI is watching 40 jihadists in the U.S.
Time points out the significance of the official's statement:
It marked the first official government confirmation that at least some of the Americans fighting alongside the Islamist extremist group have returned to the U.S. As late as Monday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry said on MSNBC that "we have over 100 fighters there from America," leaving out any mention of Americans who have returned.
The Hill notes that President Barack Obama will be "chairman of a Security Council meeting later this week, when the U.N. will seek a new resolution demanding countries strengthen laws and programs to prevent the flow of foreign citizens to the Middle East to join terrorist groups." Also, the revelation about ISIS fighters returning to America "could prompt new security concerns about the prospect that Americans who were radicalized abroad could do damage to the homeland."
However, the president has stated that there are no known ISIS plots against the U.S. Likewise, although ISIS's threats to the U.S. are getting louder, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FBI, and House Foreign Affairs Committee leadership have all stated that the terrorist group does not pose a credible threat to the American homeland.
An estimated 15,000 people total, including 2,000 European citizens, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fight to establish a Sunni Islam caliphate. A week ago, a New York man was charged in federal court for trying to recruit fighters for the Islamic State.
Part of the Obama administration's plan to prevent more Americans from radicalizing is by reaching out to the Muslim community. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that the NCC, DHS, and FBI would all participate in an "engagement meeting" pilot program.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, who has been touching base with Syrian and Somali communities in the Midwest, says he has "enhanced the visibility" of "programs to engage in outreach to communities which themselves are able to reach young men who may turn to violence." Unfortunately, the DHS's strategy also includes pushing retailers to rat out people who buy broadly defined "explosive precursors" (think pressure cookers, fertilizer).