Jihadist terrorists in Syria are not staying put. As Hillary Clinton pointed out, they’ve poured into Iraq. We’ve already seen video of one American jihadist, and there may be dozens more from the United States and Europe who have flocked there. Alert lawmakers rightly are concerned that these jihadists will soon be flying hither and yon, bringing terror with them.
Back in March, retiring Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced a bill to address this problem. A press release announced:
The International Conflicts of Concern Act would give the president authority to restrict travel and material support to countries like Syria, where foreign terrorist organizations are active in fighting and may be working with government or anti-government forces.
Once designated as a “Country of Conflict Concern,” travel and material support would be subject to licenses approved by the Treasury Department, similar to what is currently done for countries under sanctions by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Violations would be subject to both civil and criminal penalties, including up to a 20 year prison sentence.
Under the bill, Syria would automatically be “designated” for one year and would be subject to annual renewals by the president until the threat is reduced.
Wolf introduced the bill in response to concerns raised by the U.S. intelligence community and federal law enforcement in recent hearings as well as press reports regarding the threat to the homeland from U.S. nationals who have traveled to Syria to fight and may have become radicalized.
In January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that terrorist groups operating in Syria “have aspirations for attacks on the homeland,” and indicated that intelligence agencies are aware of “training complexes” within Syria “to train people to go back to their home countries and conduct terrorist acts, so this is a huge concern.”
In February, Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee that there are “7,500 or so” foreign fighters in Syria from 50 countries. There have been media reports that that number includes at least 50 Americans.
This is one more legacy of President Obama’s refusal to act in Syria. Now that the threat is unmistakable maybe it would be a good time to start doing something about jihadist who may return to the homeland. Earlier this summer FBI Director James Comey visited Miami. The Miami Herald reported at the time that the FBI’s focus “has shifted toward U.S. travelers going to Syria bent on some ‘misguided jihad’ — including a Florida man who participated in a rebel suicide-bombing attack in May.” The report continued:
The 22-year-old Vero Beach man, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, was believed to have been the first American suicide bomber in Syria.
Comey, who toured the FBI’s Miami field office for the first time since he was confirmed last September, said “Syrian travelers” are of grave concern to the bureau.
Comey, flanked by dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement officials during a brief speech at the Miramar Cultural Center, said the bureau is focused on U.S. travelers who go to Syria, receive terrorist training and return to the United States.
He said there are more than 100 suspected U.S. travelers among the thousands of foreign fighters in Syria. He also said the surging conflict between the Iraqi government and a rebel organization has created a “staging ground” for terrorist threats to Western Europe and the United States.
“This is not a New York phenomenon or a Washington phenomenon,” said Comey, who served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration. “It’s an everywhere thing because the travelers come from anywhere in the United States and they return to any part of the United States.”
This surely should be at the top of the to-do list when Congress returns. Oh, and does anyone think it is a good idea to forswear using drones to knock out terrorists before they get on planes to carry out plots? Well, other than Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), I mean.
The lackadaisical attitude toward the growing jihadist threat is reminiscent of the pre-9/11 days. But now, after two 9/11 attacks and nearly 13 years since the first one, there is no excuse for unpreparedness.