The United States Department of Homeland Security issued an new intelligence bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the country on Tuesday warning to be on heightened alert for lone-wolf attacks after U.S. military airstrikes against ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria this morning.
The FBI confirmed agents are tracking American jihadists who may return home from Syria. U.S. bound flights have increased security screening protocol to include more thorough searches for hidden explosives in electronics including laptops and cell phones. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson said last week that U.S. intelligence is able to track Westerners who travel to and from Syria, however, inside intelligence gaps remain inside Syria.
National Counter Terrorism Center director, Matt Olsen told the U.S. House Homeland Security committee last Wednesday that intelligence agencies have very little idea where foreign fighters go and what they do once they reach Syria, so they can’t estimate how many have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or other extremists.
U.S. counter-terrorism experts say there could be several hundred Americans fighting for ISIS, and some of them might eventually return to their home radicalized and determined to attack the homeland.
On August 22, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FBI intelligence bulletin warned state and local law enforcement agencies that the Islamic State (ISIS) has the capability to mount attacks on U.S. targets overseas with “little to no warning.”
In December, 2012, the United States formally designated Al Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist group. Khorasan is a subgroup of the al Nusra front, described as an al Qaeda cell with highly skilled bomb making technicians trained by al Qaeda’s master bomb builder, Ibrahim al-Asiri.
On September 10, 2010, after a new terrorism threat assessment report by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group, (NSPG) revealed the U.S. had no strategy to deal with emerging homegrown terrorists, NSPG leaders met with then Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano to discuss the reports findings.
During a Senate hearing to discuss emerging terrorist threats, then U.S. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said :
“[that]skillfully contrived publications, persuasive messages in idiomatic English, and skillful use of the Internet may be helping to increase the number of homegrown violent extremists”.
When lawmakers inquired about a strategy to counter the evolving homegrown terrorist threat, Secretary Napolitano admitted that no agency was in charge of the effort but assured the panel that one would be created.
Social media websites such as YouTube, Facebook and online jihadist chat rooms and forums have been increasingly successful as a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations such a al-Qaeda to reach a world wide audience.
American born Muslim Cleric turned terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki, dubbed the “Bin-Laden of the Internet” posted over 2,500 English videos, lectures, and sermons on YouTube. There is evidence that of the nearly 3 million viewers of Al-Awlaki’s YouTube videos were the Christmas day underwear bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, and the London bombers.
International and national security experts have warned of “lone wolf” terrorists and more specifically that al-Qaeda and ISIS sleeper cells may already be in the United States and plotting an attack.
The system has been “blinking red” on the homegrown terrorist threat for at least five years. However, security gaps in passports, airport security, and mass transportation systems — to name a few remain unchanged.