US fears es­ca­late of in­side terror at­tack

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

THE Is­lamic State group’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 yesterday.

FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey told the Aspen Se­cu­rity Fo­rum that Is­lamic State, 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 had 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 past eight weeks who had been rad­i­calised, Mr 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.

Mr 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. Mr Comey noted that “the peo­ple the Is­lamic State 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 the Is­lamic State group had eclipsed that of the ri­val or­gan­i­sa­tion that at­tacked the US on Septem­ber 11, 2001, Mr Comey said, “Yes.”

The US had tracked dozens of Amer­i­cans, rang­ing in age from 18 to 62, who had trav­elled to Syria or Iraq to fight with the Is­lamic State group, he said.

“I worry very much about what I can’t see,” Mr Comey added, be­cause he said Is­lamic State re­cruiters use en­crypted com­mu­ni­ca­tion soft­ware to avoid US eavesdropping.

Mr Comey has sounded the alarm about do­mes­tic rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion be­fore, but his re­marks sig­nal a deep­en­ing con­cern among US of­fi­cials about the im­pact of the Is­lamic State’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 head of the Na­tional Counter Ter­ror­ism Cen­tre, told Congress in Septem­ber that the US had “no cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion that ISIL is plan­ning to at­tack the United States”.

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