MOSCOW, September 5 (RIA Novosti) — Speaking at a Brookings Institution Intelligence Project event, US Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olsen said this Wednesday that despite the growing strength of ISIS, there is no evidence of a direct threat to the continental United States.
“At this point, we have no credible information that ISIS is planning to attack the United States,” Olsen told attendees.
Olsen noted that despite the IS’s growing threat to US interests, Al-Qaeda remains the most serious terror threat, given its global presence. Al-Qaeda “continues to support attacking the West and for now remains the recognized leader of the global jihad, even as it struggles to mount operations under sustained pressure,” Olsen said. Al-Qaeda has a globalized presence in countries including Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, and now India, while ISIS remains concentrated in Syria and Iraq, he noted.
“ISIS has captured our immediate focus,” Olsen said, but “it is only one of a myriad of groups that poses a threat to the US as the terrorist landscape evolves and becomes increasingly complex and challenging.”
Olsen did note however that ISIS “threatens to outpace al-Qaeda as the dominant voice of influence in the global jihadist movement,” citing their military successes, their online propaganda campaigns, and the large number of foreign fighters the group boasts, including Westerners.
First and foremost, the ISIS threatens Americans located in and around the ISIS-controlled conflict zone – in Syria, Iraq (including the American Embassy in Baghdad), Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, Olsen said. As far as the threat of terrorism within the United States itself, he noted that the most “immediate and direct threat” presented by ISIS is its possible use as a safe haven by terrorists planning an attack.
Olsen said that the ISIS online propaganda campaign may result in sympathizers within the US launching small scale independent attacks, along the lines of the Boston Marathon Bombing last year. He added that “any threat to the US homeland from these types of extremists is likely to be limited in scope and scale,” and would be “nothing like a 9/11 scale attack.” There is “no indication at this point of a cell of [IS aligned] fighters operating in the United States,” he said.
Another danger emanating from ISIS comes from the thousands of foreign fighters presently fighting in the Syrian civil war, many of whom are presumed to have joined ISIS. “We know [that] more than 12,000 foreign fighters have flocked to Syria in the past three years, including more than 1000 Europeans and more than 100 Americans,” and that many of them “have joined [IS] ranks,” Olsen said. These fighters may be used in the future “to conduct external attacks,” gaining training and experience and becoming “battle hardened and further radicalized.”
Olsen noted that despite the dangers presented by the IS and other radical Islamic terror groups, the US has plans to combat the threat. “We are clear-eyed about the threat [IS] poses...[and] are implementing a comprehensive strategy that calls for a global coalition using all tools –diplomatic, military, intelligence, and law enforcement – to defeat the group.”
The Islamic State is a self-proclaimed terror state under the leadership of Abu Bakhr al-Baghdadi, controlling territories stretching from eastern Syria to northern and eastern Iraq. The organization, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is the successor of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group formed in the wake of the 2003 US invasion of that country. The IS maintained close links to the global Al-Qaeda movement until February 2014, when links with the group were cut off and skirmishes between the IS and Al-Qaeda affiliated groups began in the contested territories in Syria.
Olsen, who graduated with a law degree from Harvard Law School, holds the position of director of the National Counterterrorism Center; previously he served as the NSA's chief legal advisor. According to a July 2014 New York Times article, “Mr. Olsen has been a leader in warning about the threat posed by radicalized young Muslims with Western passports who have traveled to Syria to fight the government of Bashar al-Assad.” When he stated earlier this year that he planned to leave his position as director of the NCTC, he was praised by US President Barrack Obama, who released a White House statement which read, “Most Americans may not know Matt Olsen’s name, but every American is safer because of his service”.