FBI: Syria Is ‘Metastasizing’ Terrorist Threats Against U.S.

The agency director’s comments arrive on the heels of reports that al-Qaida is setting up training camps within Syria.

Syrian opposition fighters ride a truck through the town of Deir Ezzor on Monday.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
Add to Briefcase
Jordain Carney
March 26, 2014, 9:51 a.m.

The FBI warned Con­gress on Wed­nes­day that Syr­ia is quickly be­com­ing a haven for ter­ror­ists look­ing to do harm to the U.S. and its al­lies.

A re­cent flood of mil­it­ants in­to the coun­try poses a “ser­i­ous chal­lenge” for coun­terter­ror­ism of­fi­cials, who are in­creas­ingly con­cerned that West­ern­ers in the coun­try could be trained to plan and carry out at­tacks around the world, FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey said.

“It’s one of the things that I meant by the meta­stas­iz­ing threat,” said Comey, ap­pear­ing be­fore a House Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee. “We’re very wor­ried about people who [travel] there, who travel out to the E.U. and then can come to the U.S. without a visa, or our cit­izens who travel back and forth dir­ectly.”

Comey’s com­ment fol­lows a New York Times re­port that al-Qaida op­er­at­ives are trav­el­ing from Pakistan in­to Syr­ia as part of a co­ordin­ated plot to carry out fu­ture ter­ror­ist strikes against the U.S. and Europe.

Al-Qaida’s seni­or Pakistani lead­er­ship is hop­ing to use chunks of largely un­gov­erned ter­rit­ory with­in Syr­ia to re­cruit and train West­ern­ers — bey­ond the reach of drone at­tacks, which U.S. of­fi­cials are hes­it­ant to use in the war-torn coun­try.

Comey said the poorly or lightly gov­erned spaces in Syr­ia and oth­er coun­tries have al­lowed the growth of a glob­al ter­ror threat “that is weak­er in the core, but dis­par­ate and vir­u­lent in a lot of dif­fer­ent places.”

Ap­prox­im­ately 1,200 Amer­ic­ans and European Muslims have traveled to Syr­ia to fight in the coun­try’s civil war, which star­ted in 2011, The Times notes.

The FBI dir­ect­or said earli­er this year that U.S. of­fi­cials are us­ing a mul­ti­tude of ways to track Amer­ic­ans in Syr­ia, in­clud­ing elec­tron­ic spy­ing, travel re­cords, in­form­a­tion from sources in­side Syr­ia, and data provided by the European Uni­on.

Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Frank Wolf, R-Va., in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion earli­er this month that would al­low the pres­id­ent to re­strict U.S. travel and ma­ter­i­al sup­port to coun­tries that have ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions en­gaged in an armed con­flict with­in the coun­try — in­clud­ing Syr­ia.

Comey says he is gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of the le­gis­la­tion.

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