Islamic Terrorism Viewed as Threat While Congress Reviews Security
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers advised against an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality Wednesday as they assessed emerging terrorist threats from radical Muslim extremists based in the Middle East.
The threats have not gone away despite a 20-year American war effort in the war on terrorism. They have merely evolved with new technology and techniques, lawmakers said during a hearing of the House Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism.
Part of the hearing with U.S. counterterrorism officials was held behind closed doors “because today’s testimony may endanger national security,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., the subcommittee’s chairwoman.
Before they met secretly, Slotkin and her Republican colleague gave enough of a warning for anyone to see that little has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States.
“What has not changed is that the United States is an outsized target, an appetizing target for terrorists,” said Slotkin, a former CIA analyst who served in Iraq.
New threats include improvised armed drones, powerful explosives hidden in printer cartridges and the veil of secrecy around cryptocurrency accounts used to fund terrorist activities.
An uptick in suspected Muslim terrorists posing as Mexicans crossing the southern border illegally is creating some of the alarms.
By March of this year, 238 suspects had been charged in the United States with offenses related to the terrorist group ISIS, according to George Washington University’s Project on Extremism. Of those, 189 were convicted, receiving average sentences of 13.1 years.
ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It is a Sunni violent jihadist group that claims authority over all Muslims. It was formerly associated with al-Qaeda.
The U.S. military degraded al-Qaeda and ISIS but they are “still having a vision of carrying out an attack on our U.S. homeland,” Slotkin said.
“It hasn’t gone away simply because the news isn’t covering it every day,” she said.
Republican Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, said the threats are more acute for residents in his home state of Texas, where there has been a recent “dramatic spike we’ve seen in watch-listed persons seen at the border.”
A watch list refers to people who the government is closely monitoring because of suspected ties to violent groups. Persons on the watch list could be banned from travel by air or sea, denied visas to enter the United States or subjected to invasive screenings at airports.
The current U.S. watch list is heavy with affiliates of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
“My question is this, what don’t we know,” Pfluger asked.
He added, “It only took a handful of people on 9/11,” in reference to terrorists who slammed airliners into the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center.
A recent threat in his home state was directed at former President George W. Bush. A suspected ISIS agent was seen taking video around Bush’s Dallas, Texas, home in November.
The FBI suspects him of trying to recruit other Muslim extremists who he hoped to smuggle into the United States over the Mexican border, according to an FBI search warrant application unsealed in late May. The case remains under investigation.
In separate Justice Department action, a Brooklyn, New York, man was convicted three weeks ago of providing material support to ISIS. Mirsad Kandic, 40, was a high-ranking ISIS member who recruited foreign fighters and obtained weapons and false identification for them, according to prosecutors.
As an ISIS media liaison, Kandic was accused of disseminating recruitment messages and gruesome propaganda on Twitter accounts. In one alleged case, Kandic sent out an ISIS-produced “documentary” titled the “Flames of War.”
It celebrated ISIS conquests and macabre executions of captives, including some who were forced to dig their own graves before being shot to death. Kandic reportedly tweeted that the video was the “best thing ever seen on screen.”
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