Coun­tert­er­ror chief warns of vast global army

Mes­sage con­flicts with op­ti­mistic view of Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The na­tion’s top coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial tes­ti­fied that the world’s army of ter­ror­ists is “broader, wider and deeper than any point since 9/11,” the day al Qaeda at­tacked Amer­ica.

Ni­cholas Ras­mussen, who di­rects the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, said the Is­lamic State may be los­ing ground in Iraq and Syria, but its abil­ity to strike abroad, in­clud­ing in the U.S., “has not thus far been sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ished.”

The na­tion is fac­ing a phase in which peo­ple quickly rad­i­cal­ize and launch sim­ple but deadly at­tacks be­fore au­thor­i­ties have time to de­tect them, he said.

His tes­ti­mony to the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee con­flicts with up­beat re­ports from the White House, which has fo­cused on ter­ri­to­rial losses in Syria and Iraq as signs that the Is­lamic State is be­ing de­feated.

“Even ISIL’s lead­ers know they’re go­ing to keep los­ing,” Pres­i­dent Obama said in Au­gust. “In their mes­sage to fol­low­ers, they’re in­creas­ingly ac­knowl­edg­ing that they may lose Mo­sul and Raqqa, and ISIL is right … they will lose them. And we’ll keep hit­ting them and push­ing them back and driv­ing them out un­til they do.”

The Is­lamic State group, also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh, has set up its so-called cap­i­tal in Raqqa, Syria, and con­trols Mo­sul, the sec­ond-largest city in Iraq.

Mr. Ras­mussen made his sober as­sess­ment as the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is­sued a con­fi­den­tial warn­ing. U.S.-based ter­ror­ists are likely fo­cused on mass killings at fes­ti­vals, con­certs, sport­ing events and other out­door events, says a con­fi­den­tial re­port ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The Sept. 23 warn­ing was is­sued in the wake of a string of bomb­ings in Man­hat­tan and New Jer­sey for which an Afghan-born Mus­lim, Ah­mad Khan Ra­hami, was ap­pre­hended in a gun­fight with po­lice.

The re­port says the “most likely tac­tics” would in­volve “edged weapons, small arms, ve­hi­cle as­saults and pos­si­bly [im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices],” said the re­port, a copy of which was ob­tained by The Times.

The Is­lamic State has urged Mus­lims on so­cial me­dia to use ve­hi­cles to achieve mass killings, as was car­ried out in July in Nice, France, by a fol­lower of the group.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment’s of­fice of in­tel­li­gence and anal­y­sis “as­sesses that com­mer­cial fa­cil­i­ties — such as fes­ti­vals, con­certs, out­door events, and other mass gath­er­ings — re­main a po­ten­tial tar­get for ter­ror­ists or [homegrown vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists], as they of­ten pur­sue sim­ple, achiev­able at­tacks with an em­pha­sis on eco­nomic im­pact and mass ca­su­al­ties,” the re­port said.

Home­land Se­cu­rity said homegrown lon­ers make foil­ing plots dif­fi­cult.

“We face an in­creased chal­lenge in de­tect­ing in-progress plots by in­di­vid­u­als or small groups act­ing quickly and in­de­pen­dently or with only ten­u­ous ties to for­eign han­dlers,” the re­port says. “Pre­op­er­a­tional in­di­ca­tors are likely to be dif­fi­cult to de­tect; there­fore, state, lo­cal, tribal, ter­ri­to­rial, and pri­vate sec­tor part­ners play a crit­i­cal role in iden­ti­fy­ing and re­port­ing sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­i­ties and rais­ing the aware­ness of fed­eral coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cials.”

At the Se­nate hear­ing, Mr. Ras­mussen and other wit­nesses de­scribed a grow­ing trend in the killing busi­ness: U.S. res­i­dents can quickly be­come rad­i­cal­ized via so­cial me­dia and ex­e­cute at­tacks, leav­ing lit­tle time for the FBI to de­tect them.

“While we’ve seen a de­crease in the fre­quency of large-scale, com­plex plot­ting ef­forts that some­times span months or years,” Mr. Ras­mussen said, “we’re in­stead see­ing much more rapidly evolv­ing threats, or plot vec­tors, that emerge quickly or sud­denly. And this so-called flash-to-bang ra­tio, the time between when an in­di­vid­ual de­cides to at­tack and when an at­tack ac­tu­ally oc­curs, the flash-to-bang ra­tio of this kind of plot­ting is ex­tremely com­pressed and al­lows very lit­tle time for law en­force­ment and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials to get their arms around a plot.”

He said Mr. Ra­hami and a So­mali na­tional ac­cused of at­tack­ing shop­pers with a knife in a mall in Min­nesota are “in­di­vid­u­als who choose rel­a­tively sim­ple at­tack meth­ods, prop­a­gated by ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

On the Is­lamic State, he said: “It’s our judg­ment that ISIL’s ca­pac­ity and abil­ity to­day to carry out at­tacks in Syria and Iraq and abroad has not thus far been sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ished. And the tempo of ISIL-linked ter­ror­ist at­tacks and ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity in Europe and other places around the globe is a re­minder of that global reach.”

FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey said the U.S. should brace for the day when Is­lamic State fight­ers are rousted from Iraq and Syria.

“The chal­lenge will be through the fin­gers of that crush are go­ing to come hun­dreds of very, very dan­ger­ous peo­ple,” Mr. Comey tes­ti­fied. “They will not all die on the bat­tle­field, in Syria and Iraq. There will be a ter­ror­ist di­as­pora some­time in the next two to five years like we’ve never seen be­fore.”

He added: “We must pre­pare our­selves and our al­lies, es­pe­cially in Western Europe, to con­front that threat. Be­cause when ISIL is re­duced to an in­sur­gency and those killers flow out, they will try to come to Western Europe and try to come here to kill in­no­cent peo­ple.”

Home­land Se­cu­rity Di­rec­tor Jeh John­son said a new type of ter­ror­ist is called “ter­ror­ist-en­abled.”

They fall some­place between a self-rad­i­cal­ized loner and one di­rectly con­trolled by an or­ga­ni­za­tion, Mr. John­son said.

“While we’ve seen a de­crease in the fre­quency of large-scale, com­plex plot­ting ef­forts that some­times span months or years, we’re in­stead see­ing much more rapidly evolv­ing threats, or plot vec­tors, that emerge quickly or sud­denly.” — Ni­cholas Ras­mussen, Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ni­cholas Ras­mussen, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, told Congress that the Is­lamic State still has an abil­ity to launch ter­ror­ist at­tacks abroad, in­clud­ing in the U.S.

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