- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2014

President Obama’s top adviser overseeing the coalition fighting the Islamic State said Thursday U.S. officials are “very closely” monitoring the possible spread of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s extremist movement beyond Syria and Iraq, especially as international efforts ramp up toward confronting the group in those two nations.

“We are keeping close tabs on other groups that may swear fealty ultimately to Baghdadi … and to the organization, which then gives them, in essence, a franchise reach into other areas of the globe as far away as East Asia,” said retired U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the president’s special envoy for the global coalition fighting the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.

The extremist movement broke out of its Syrian base to take over a broad swath of Iraq earlier this year, and the U.S. and its allies fear Islamic State leaders are seeking links to other radical groups.

“We have to be very attentive, through social media and through other means of communications to the long reach of [Islamic State] beyond the simple terrestrial reach,” Mr. Allen told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “We’re attentive to Saudi Arabia, we’re attentive to equilibrium in Jordan, certainly in Turkey and Lebanon and we watch it very closely.”

His comments come roughly a month after reports that al-Baghdadi’s group had succeeded in opening a regional front in North Africa, where groups of young Islamic extremists — in both eastern Libya and in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — have pledged allegiance, or “bayat,” to the Islamic State leader.

A U.S. intelligence official told The Washington Times in late November that the terror group’s “stated goal of expanding its caliphate and its adherence to a strict form of [Islamic Shariah law] has definitely resonated with a collection of extremists across North Africa, who appear to be mimicking ISIL’s rhetoric and brutality.”

SEE ALSO: House criticizes White House on Islamic State progress

Most notably, militants claiming to control the Libyan town of Darna — long a hotbed of al Qaeda-inspired extremism — declared allegiance. And, in Egypt’s Sinai, members of the extremist outfit Ansar Beit al-Maqdis circulated a 30-minute pledge in a video apparently produced by the sophisticated digital propaganda arm of the Islamic State.

Mr. Allen said Thursday that one of the biggest challenges centers on countering foreign fighters inspired to join the extremist group by taking action in their own homelands, or by traveling to Syria and Iraq.

The foreign fighters will pose a threat to the United States for “a long time,” he said, although he added U.S. allies around the world are stepping up efforts to crack down.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, said at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday that there were already over 15,000 foreign fighters within the Islamic State group as of September.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and a member of the committee, cited reports that the group “is recruiting more than 1,000 foreign fighters every month.”

“These fighters are streaming into Syria and Iraq from Europe, North Africa, the Gulf, the U.S. and other nations,” Mr. Engel said. “Most troubling, some of them are returning to their home countries armed with the knowledge of how to sow terror.”

Brett McGurk, President Obama’s deputy special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, told lawmakers that progress is being made to curtail the flow of foreign recruits to the Islamic State stronghold.

“We now have in place a Security Council resolution calling on all member states to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria,” Mr. McGurk said. “Members of the coalition are increasingly criminalizing foreign fighter-related activities. In the past month alone, foreign fighter networks have been broken up in Austria and Malaysia; and foreign fighters prosecuted in Germany, Australia and the U.K.”

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