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Graham: Islamic State has capability to hit homeland

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2014

U.S. lawmakers Sunday said the Islamic State is moving closer to becoming a direct threat to the homeland in the wake of its beheading of an American journalist and an administration warning to domestic law enforcement about the group also widely known as ISIL.

"I hope the new mission is to defeat and destroy ISIL as a threat to our homeland," Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Mr. Graham cited hundreds of American citizens with passports and European citizens "going to the fight that can penetrate America by having European, U.S. passports."

"A lot of jihadists have flocked to the area — they've expressed the will to hit the homeland; that's part [of] their agenda is to drive us out of the Mideast," said Mr. Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Do they have the capability to hit the homeland? I would say yes."

With the Islamic State raising concerns about an attack on the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI put out a bulletin to local law enforcement last week telling them to be aware of the group, while reiterating there is no evidence of a threat to homeland at this point.

But Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, disputed that, saying the Islamic State separated from al Qaeda in Syria precisely because the group wanted to conduct "western-style operations."

He also pointed out that the Islamic State militant who appeared in the group's video showing the beheading of photojournalist James Foley speaks English with an obviously British accent and is being investigated as a presumed U.K. citizen.

"What's dangerous [is] if that's a British citizen — we believe it was — you have somebody that was watching and participating in the whole exercise of making that video," Mr. Rogers said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"That individual goes back home and is — again, buys one plane ticket, they're in the United States. We may or may not know who that individual is. That's what's so dangerous about this and why we can't let them continue unabated."

The U.S. has conducted approximately 100 air strikes against the militants in Iraq since Aug. 8 and the White House has indicated it is considering expanding the operation to Syria to disrupt the group.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned last week that the group is "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen."

"They're beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded," he said. "This is beyond anything that we've seen. So we must prepare for everything."

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he appreciated such rhetoric from people in President Obama's administration, but said Mr. Obama himself needs to come forward with a "cohesive, comprehensive" strategy not only on Iraq but in other parts of the world.

"There's no boundary between Syria and Iraq," Mr. McCain said on "Fox News Sunday." "One of the key decisions the president's going to have to make is air power in Syria. We cannot give them a base of operations and we've got to help the Free Syrian Army."

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said on "State of the Union" that one has to begin with the presumption that the group "could" be a threat to the homeland.

"And then, we have to carefully evaluate what their capabilities are, what their intentions are. I don't think we can simply dismiss them," he said. "But to jump from what they've done, which is horrific, particularly the murder of Mr. Foley, to the assumption that they're going to be an immediate and within days threat to us here in our homeland, I think you don't jump to that assumption."

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