“Up to 5,000 of these fighters are Westerners, many of whom are able to travel into the United States without obtaining a visa,” McCaul said on Wednesday. “More than 150 American citizens have attempted to or succeeded in getting to the battlefield and we know some have already returned to our shores.”
McCaul expressed his concern about the US ability to combat violent Islamic extremism not just abroad but “also here at home.”
“In many ways, we are no longer talking about terrorist groups,” McCaul said. “We are talking about terrorist armies.”
During the hearing McCaul announced that he and members of the Committee on Homeland Security would create a Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel which will review the US government and particularly the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts “to disrupt terrorist travel into our country and to combat the foreign fighter threat.”
Ultimately, McCaul said that the Task Force would give recommendations to his committee on how the US can improve its security “against these dangers.”
Over 15,000 foreign fighters, including many citizens of the United States and European countries, have travelled to Syria to join extremist groups since 2011, according to a UN estimate.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is a jihadist group that has seized large areas in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed Islamic caliphate on areas under its control. The insurgents are infamous for brutal executions of journalists, aid workers and civilians on camera.