Administration officials, lawmakers and anti-terrorism experts cranked up the warnings about domestic terrorism on Sunday after a pair of wannabe jihadis got themselves killed last week in an ill-considered attack on a controversial “Draw the Prophet Mohammed” cartoon contest in Garland, Tex.
Late last week, federal law enforcement officials raised the alarm about the tens of thousands of social media accounts linked with ISIS and other global terrorist groups and their ability to inspire mentally disturbed people or others already disposed to religiously inspired violence to act in the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, speaking with reporters last week, said:“It’s like the Devil sitting on their shoulders, saying, ‘Kill. Kill. Kill.’”
Among other things, U.S. military facilities have been placed on a state of heightened alert after calls by ISIS and other groups for attacks on U.S. soldiers.
On Sunday, Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, underlined Comey’s warning, referring to ISIS by an acronym preferred by the Obama administration.
“We’re very definitely in a new environment, because ISIL’s effective use of social media…has the ability to reach into the homeland and inspire others,” he said.
Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Johnson told Martha Raddatz that the country needs to accept the fact that there could be little or no warning of small-scale terror attacks within the U.S.
“We’re very definitely in a new phase in the terrorist threat, where the so called lone wolf could strike at any moment,” he said. However, Johnson said federal authorities are not warning Americans to stay indoors with the shades drawn and urged them to attend public events, including sporting events and, later this week, annual memorial services for police officers killed in the line of duty.
“We are not discouraging Americans from doing the things they do on a daily basis in a free society,” he said.
Johnson and others concerned with the threat of Islamic extremism in the U.S. have become increasingly vocal about the need for more support from the Muslim community – particularly faith leaders – in countering the message of violent jihad that is penetrating Twitter and other social media sites.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have had a fraught relationship with Muslim communities in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks in 2011. Many Muslims groups feel that they are often unduly targeted for surveillance and investigation.
Still, Johnson said that they need to do more to push back against extremist voices. “It has to come from Islamic leaders who can talk the language better than the government can,” he said.
John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence for the New York City Police Department, was less diplomatic, saying that there has been a lack of effort from Muslim leaders.
“While we understand there are some things that they are concerned need to stop, there are some things that we’re concerned need to start,” said Miller. “Community leaders are not as engaged in the counter-message as we would hope.”
Others in the federal government said that there must be a stronger emphasis placed of defeating ISIS militarily in Iraq and Syria. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said that part of what will inspire U.S.-based attacks is the perception that ISIS is having success in its efforts to set up a new “caliphate” in the Middle East.
Asked on CNN is the U.S. is the “new front line” in the fight against ISIS, Senator Johnson said, “We’re certainly vulnerable, and this is all part of ISIS’s strategy of conveying a winner’s message that’s trying to inspire more…acts of violence like we saw in Texas last Sunday.
“So from my standpoint, I think the best strategy the U.S. could deploy is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria so that the reality actually is conveyed that this is not a winning organization, this is a losing organization,” He said.
Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s ambassador to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, agreed with Johnson. “We have to defeat them in the heart of their self-proclaimed – their falsely proclaimed – caliphate in Iraq and Syria. We’re doing that” he said.
At home, McGurk said, “The threat and the challenge is enormous. It’s really nothing we’ve ever seen before.” Thousands of citizens of Western countries, many holding passports that allow easy access to the U.S., have traveled to the Middle East to fight for ISIS. He said tracking them and preventing them from taking action against the U.S. when they return home is “a multifaceted international, federal, state and local challenge.”
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