COMPILED REPORTS \ GlobalSecurity
There are as many as 300 Americans fighting alongside the ISIL terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, prompting widespread concern in Washington that the militants could pose a direct threat to the homeland once they return.
The US government is currently tracking and gathering intelligence on the American militants who could return to the homeland and commit terrorist attacks with skills obtained abroad, senior US officials said as reported by The Washington Times.
Heightening concerns about Americans joining ISIL were reports Tuesday that a California man who fought side by side with militants in Syria was found dead on the battlefield, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.
Douglas McArthur McCain was killed last weekend in a battle between rival terrorist groups in the suburbs of Aleppo, Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that monitors the conflict.
According to a senior US official, American militants fighting for ISIL, also known as ISIS or IS, have been shifting back and forth between Iraq and Syria and that the US government is doing its best to keep track of them.
“We know that there are several hundred American passport holders running around with ISIS in Syria or Iraq,” the official said, offering a figure well above widespread reports of about 100 such fighters. “It’s hard to tell whether or not they’re in Syria or moved to Iraq.”
The threat of terrorists returning to the United States is “a new hazard” for the Department of Homeland Security, said retired Army Major Mike Lyons, a senior fellow with the Truman National Security Project and a CBS Radio News analyst.
American officials say the savage militant group is growing in strength and is much more capable than the one US forces faced when the group was called “al Qaeda-Iraq” during the US war in Iraq from 2003-2011.
ISIL controls large parts of Syria’s northern territory. The group sent its fighters into neighboring Iraq in June, quickly seizing large swaths of land straddling the border between the two countries.
The US military has begun planning for airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria after last week’s beheading of American journalist James Foley. The US has launched a limited air campaign against the terrorist group in Iraq since August 8.
Jihadist Recruitment Tools Raise US Concerns
by Jeff Seldin
The deaths of as many as two U.S. citizens in Syria fighting alongside the group known as the Islamic State are raising fears about the number of Americans drawn to the jihadist cause and the possibility of an Islamic State attack in the United States.
A jihadist video posted on the Internet claims to show U.S. citizen Moner Mohammad abu-Salha, part of the propaganda machine intended to draw more Americans to the fight.
“I have one word to say to you kafir [infidel] – we are coming for you,” he said.
Unlike the U.S. citizens who fought with the Islamic State and recently died in Syria, abu-Salha fought with the rival jihadist group al-Nusra Front.
“He was actually able to return to the United States after having been in Syria, and [return there], where he died as a suicide bomber, which indicates that he evaded intelligence,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who is with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Overall, the United States has done a good job making sure such so-called foreign fighters do not return home to unleash terror attacks, but that one radicalized American was able to slip through the cracks illustrates the dangers, he said.
Of all the jihadist groups, the Islamic State is the most likely to be plotting such attacks, according to officials and analysts.
The RAND Corporation’s Jonah Blank says the death in battle of American Douglas McArthur McCain shows the group may not be focused on grooming its Western recruits for terror attacks in their home countries.
“If that were its main goal, it wouldn’t let him get anywhere near a bullet,” he said.
The way the Islamic State touts its exploits on social media could help undercut any plots to export terror.
“It presents the FBI, Homeland Security and other security organizations with a valuable way to keep tabs on these individuals,” Blank said.
Either way, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the United States “is not turning a blind eye” to the Islamic State’s aspirations.
“We are taking not just a regional approach but even a global approach to how we’re trying to look at what they’re trying to do,” he said.
Officials said as many as 100 Americans are thought to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to cast their lot with groups like the Islamic State. Add in Europeans and the number grows to 1,000 or more.