Law enforcement officials are increasingly concerned that American citizens, fighting alongside jihadist extremists in Syria and Iraq, could return the United States to stage terrorist attacks.
The New York Police Department’s terror chief, John Miller, recently told the New York Daily News that he believes more than 100 American citizens are currently overseas training with jihadists.
“I would be hyper-concerned about the people over there from New York City on the presumption they’re going to return to New York City,” Miller said, adding that he was just concerned about people from other American cities.
“Chicago, Minnesota, Portland, you name it,” he said. “If their mindset is to return to America and to engage in terrorist activities, they’re likely going to end up in New York anyway.”
Of primary concern are those individuals believed to be fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. That group is considered to be a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida and is fighting against Syria’s Assad regime. ISIS is also responsible for the current crisis in Iraq and has recently occupied numerous cities in the country, threatening the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Miller’s worries echo those of federal officials.
Last month an American citizen killed himself in a suicide bombing attack on a roadblock in Syria. The New York Times reported that officials and experts believed the disturbing revelation was cause for concern.
“The recent flood of militants into [Syria] poses a serious challenge, as these individuals could be trained to plan and carry out attacks around the world,” deputy FBI director, Mark Giuliano, said.
Seth Jones, a terrorism expert with the RAND Corporation, agreed.
“It indicates that Americans are honing their ability to conduct terrorist attacks,” Jones said, adding that newly-learned skills could be used within the United States or against the country’s interests abroad.
Miller claimed the deteriorating situation in Iraq should only heighten concerns.
“There’s a factory over there in Syria and Iraq that turns out terrorists,” he said. “The situation in Syria is a cancer and now that has spread to Iraq … They’re going over, getting training, getting radicalized.”
American officials have said they are aware of about 70 Americans who have travelled to Syria. It is unclear whether they know of any citizens fighting in Iraq. Last the month the FBI, CIA, National Counterterrorism Center and Homeland Security Department created a joint team of analysts to prevent so-called American jihadists from returning to the United States undetected.