There have been more U.S.-based jihadi terrorism cases in 2015 than in any full year since 9/11, according to a “Threat Snapshot” released Tuesday by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who asserted that U.S. officials must “do more to take the fight to the enemy overseas at its source.”
“Otherwise, we’re going to see the threat picture here at home steadily worsen,” Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, said in a statement with the report, which maintains that the number of U.S.-based jihadi cases has increased three-fold over the past five years — from 39 in July 2010 to 122 at present.
Counterterrorism analysts outside the government caution against drawing broad conclusions from such statistics, but Tuesday’s report suggests the surge can be tied to the rise of the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and beyond.
The document asserts that Washington’s attempt to counter the group, also known by the acronym ISIS, is failing: “America and its overseas partners have largely failed to rollback the ISIS terror safe haven. Despite a year of airstrikes, U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded ISIS is no weaker than a year ago and can field nearly 30,000 foot soldiers.”
It’s fueling an “Islamist wildfire” around the world, the report says, with the Islamic State drawing in foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq from more than 100 countries — including “dozens” of Americans — while also using Internet propaganda to inspire extremists to “conduct attacks in their home countries.”
The grim assessment says the Islamic State now has affiliates in at least 18 nations. While no such affiliate has been uncovered in the U.S., the document points to a spike in Islamic State-related plots in the homeland and says Islamist terrorists increasingly are targeting American troops and police.
Mr. McCaul pointed to last month’s killing of four U.S. Marines and a sailor by a Kuwait-born American who went on a shooting spree in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as the highest profile recent example of a “new generation of extremists” threatening the homeland.
The FBI has investigated the case as terrorism, but officials said they found no material connection between the gunman, 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez — who was killed in a gunfight with police during the attack — and any specific terrorist group, including the Islamic State.
Tuesday’s report says authorities have arrested or charged at least 48 individuals in “ISIS-related” cases inside the U.S. during the past seven months, claiming the figure represents a significant jump from the just 15 such cases that unfolded during all of 2014.
“The cases involve individuals: plotting attacks; attempting to travel to join ISIS overseas; sending money, equipment and weapons to terrorists; falsifying statements to federal authorities; and failing to report a felony,” the document states.
It also notes how FBI Director James Comey has said authorities have hundreds of open investigations of potential Islamic State-inspired extremists that cover all 56 of the bureau’s field offices.
But some analysts say there are nuances behind the uptick in cases and that lawmakers should be careful about overstating the Islamic State threat to the homeland.
“If you want to know why there are more cases being documented right now, it’s because we’ve shifted resources to focus on these cases,” said Clint Watts, a Fox Fellow at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute.
“I don’t doubt there are more ISIS cases now than two years ago,” said Mr. Watts. “But those stats are somewhat self-fulfilling. If you go and send out squads of people to find ISIS guys, then they’re going to come back with ISIS guys, so you’re going to have more cases.”
Mr. Watts also said he agrees with the notion that the Islamic State’s success on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq is resulting in more Islamic State-inspired plots around the world.
“Success on the ground equals success online and globally,” he said. “Jihadists are fickle, and they want to join winners.”
However, he cautioned against using the statistics cited in Tuesday’s report as a justification for banging the drums of war — or claiming the U.S. should significantly ramp up military operations in Iran and Syria.
The Islamic State in those nations will ultimately destroy itself from within, Mr. Watts argued, if outside powers, including the United States, are able to contain the group’s territorial gains through airstrikes and other actions while using a range of more nimble counterterrorism tools to disrupt the organization’s revenue streams.
⦁ Jennifer Harper contributed to this report.