The Islamic State’s deadly plots against Western targets are on the rise, spiking to 28 this year while the group is steadily expanding its supporter base in the U.S., according to a “Terror Threat Snapshot” circulated by Rep. Michael T. McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The threat assessment was pieced together by the Texas Republican’s committee staff and made public Thursday, less than a week after the FBI and the Homeland Security Department warned local law enforcement agencies of possible July Fourth terrorist attacks on behalf of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS.
“We need to take the sharp increase in ISIS and other Islamist terror activity more seriously,” said Mr. McCaul, noting that “extremists are radicalizing and recruiting new foot soldiers around the world at broadband speeds.”
The 28 attacks cited in the snapshot assessment is more than 47 percent higher than what federal authorities uncovered in 2014. The graphic depiction of the level of terrorist activity also shows that this year the rate of terrorist plots worldwide has doubled and the number of homegrown terrorist plots in the U.S. has tripled.
In just the past three weeks, the FBI has arrested at least 10 U.S. citizens suspect of plotting various attacks at home on behalf of the Islamic State.
Additionally, committee staff have been tracking an 80 percent increase in the number of foreign fighters streaming across the borders of Iraq and Syria to help the terrorist group fight the U.S. military, Iraqi Security Forces and other partner nations. About 22,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries have heeded the siren call of the terrorist group, data show.
Of those 22,000 foreign fighters, 4,000 are Westerners, 200 are Americans and 40 of those Americans have returned to the U.S. after fighting side by side with Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, the data found.
This is the second “Terror Threat Snapshot” released by the committee in an effort “to make clear to the public how serious the threat is getting from Islamic terrorist groups,” said a congressional aide familiar with the chairman’s plans. Additional snapshots will be made available at the beginning of every month, the aide said.
In addition, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have issued a joint bulletin putting law enforcement agencies across the country on heightened alert during the Fourth of July festivities.
“There is nothing that extremists would like more than to instill fear this weekend when Americans will be celebrating our independence and freedom,” said Mark Wallace, CEO of the Counter Extremism Project and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for Management Reform. “These warnings are another reminder of just how serious a threat we face from extremists sworn to do us harm. That is why it is so important that we remain vigilant and take steps to combat and weaken extremism across the globe.”
The Counter Extremism Project has grown increasingly concerned about that outreach effort and recently expanded its counterterrorism efforts to include a European initiative, known as CEP Europe, to counter extremist narratives and dangerous social media propaganda.
That propaganda is aimed toward triggering attacks in the West, according to the “Terror Threat Snapshot.” Since the beginning of 2015, the Islamic State group has shared more than 1,700 videos, photographic reports and magazines over social media urging attacks on Western targets, the snapshot states.
With recent attacks in France and against tourists in Tunisia, the Islamic State has now been linked to 47 terrorist plots or attacks against the West, including 11 inside the United States, according to the threat snapshot.
Mr. McCaul said he hopes his latest threat assessment will prompt the U.S. government to take the Islamic State and other terrorist activity more seriously. The uptick in “chatter” about possible attacks as the Fourth of July draws near is cause for concern and a signal that more needs to be done to combat the growing threat, he said.
“I commend our law enforcement and intelligence professionals for disrupting so many plots recently, but we cannot rely on our defenses alone,” he said.
Despite the Islamic State’s surging recruitment, “the administration is responding at bureaucratic pace. It’s time for the president to listen to these wake-up calls and to lay out a credible offensive strategy to defeat what is a global — not regional — menace,” Mr. McCaul said.
The Obama administration has a nine-part strategy to stunt the growth of the Islamic State overseas and prevent the violent extremist group from successfully recruiting Americans to launch terrorist attacks inside the United States.
That strategy includes supporting effective governance in Iraq, denying the Islamic State a safe haven, building partner capacity with key countries, enhancing the intelligence collection on Islamic State activity, exposing the group’s “true nature,” disrupting its finances, disrupting the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, and protecting the homeland.
But counterterrorism analysts say the strategy is not working and agree that the “Terror Threat Snapshot” should serve as a wake-up call to the Obama administration that it needs to do more to protect the American people from terrorists.
“Despite the continuing narrative by the Obama administration that the threat of ISIS is limited, the reality on the ground speaks otherwise,” said Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in Texas. “The 9/11 Commission Report said it was a lack of imagination that allowed 9/11 to occur. That factor is mimicking itself today as ISIS both expands in the Middle East and inspires around the world.”
Other counterterrorism analysts blame the Obama administration’s “light footprint” strategy of training local forces while bombing terrorists from the air with drones or jet aircraft. They say the strategy may be making the situation worse by not taking out the safe havens that Islamist groups enjoy while alienating local populaces.
“What they are doing now is making it more likely that there will be a bigger, more disastrous catastrophe for the United States,” David Sedney, who resigned in 2013 as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told The Associated Press.
“Drone strikes are not creating a safer, more stable world,” he said, adding that the campaigns merely create more enemies without a plan to defeat them.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced another success in that strategy, saying an airstrike in Syria killed a senior Islamic State leader last month.
Tariq bin Tahar al-‘Awni al-Harzi, who helped move people and supplies into Iraq and Syria for the Islamic State, was killed June 16 by a coalition airstrike in Shaddadi, Syria.
“As an ISIL member, he worked to raise funds and recruit and facilitate the travel of fighters for the terrorist organization,” Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “Al-Harzi also worked to provide materiel to ISIL by procuring and shipping weapons from Libya to Syria for ISIL.”
His death will make it more difficult to recruit fighters and move equipment into Iraq and Syria, Capt. Davis said.
The Islamic State group has been continuously broadcasting its call to violence in a manner that is tantamount to “standing on a mountain top and shouting, ‘Kill, kill, kill!’” in the hopes that someone, anyone, will heed their call and take violent actions in their name, said Ron Hosko, president of Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and former assistant director of the FBI.
The Islamic State has been aggressive about seeking additional supporters. Its members are known to issue 90,000 to 100,000 tweets a day, Mr. Wallace said.
But the “Terror Threat Snapshot” estimates that as many as 200,000 Islamic State messages are issued on Twitter every day. The extremist group uses those messages to call on potential supporters in the United States to attack people in their communities.
“This is a ‘come as you are’ call,” Mr. Hosko said. “If you can go kill a cop or somebody in uniform, that’s quite all right. If you can kill a bunch of people, even better.”
⦁ S.A. Miller and Jacqueline Klimas contributed to this report.