Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Threat Keeping National Security Officials Up at Night

Canadian Suicide Bomber Andre Poulin, converted to Islam and starred in a 
recruitment video for the Islamic State. -  NYT Photo

Last May, Moner Mohammed Abusalha, a 22-year-old American who had joined an Al Qaeda-allied group in Syria, drove a bomb-laden truck into a restaurant in the northern province of Idlib, killing dozens. Before carrying out this suicide bombing, the New York Times reported last week, Abusalha had briefly returned home to his native Florida. Abusalha's story underscores a mounting concern among Western national security officials, because while he detonated his truck bomb in Syria, he could have easily struck within the United States.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group has enlisted thousands of fundamentalist volunteers from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere. Counter-terrorism officials fear that jihadists like Abusalha, holding European Union or US passports, can all too easily return to their home countries and possibly import terrorism. 

FBI Director James Comey recently told reporters that the threat of Westerners with European Union and US passports joining the Islamic State "keeps me up at night" and that he believes another wave of September 11-style attacks are a possibility. And Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News, "In some ways, it's more frightening than anything I've seen as attorney general."

It's not hard to explain why young, alienated adults are drawn to the Islamic State, says Brian Forst, an American University professor who specializes in criminology and counter-terrorism: "Fighting for a cause has always been popular among the young, especially alienated 17-year-old males unaware or other options for making a difference.