A terror plot to behead a Boston police officer has lawmakers questioning the reach of the Islamic State to the U.S. interior and what the Department of Homeland Security is doing to stop it.
Lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned about the Islamic State’s “call to arms” to attack military installations or law enforcement officers — particularly via social media networks, which have become “an extension of the Islamist terror battlefields overseas,” Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Wednesday.
“Aspiring fanatics can receive updates from hardcore extremists on the ground in Syria via Twitter, watch [Islamic State] bloodlust on YouTube, view jihadi selfies on Instagram, read religious justifications for murder on JustPasteIt, and find travel guides to the battlefield on Ask.fm,” the Texas Republican said during a committee hearing examining the issue.
“Jihadi recruiters are mastering the ability to monitor, and prey upon, Western youth susceptible to the twisted message of Islamist terror,” he continued. “They seek out curious users who have questions about Islam or what to know what life is like in the so-called Islamic State. They engage, establish bonds of trust, and assess the commitment of their potential recruits.”
Following the failed attempt by a 26-year-old Usaama Rahim to attack a group of law enforcement officers with a military-style knife, lawmakers called on the Department of Homeland Security to discuss their efforts to diffuse the Islamic State’s online reach.
One of the Department’s aims is to encourage “credible voices” in the community to challenge and counter violent extremism online, said Francis Taylor, under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. In addition, department officials are in the process of boosting training, analysis and information sharing with state and local law enforcement officers, he said.
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The FBI has this year arrested several Islamic State supporters who were plotting large-scale attacks on military facilities that sometimes included taking hostages and using a car bomb to kill a large number of officers.
The increased threats against the homeland prompted FBI Director James Comey to announce in May began that the Islamic State is making a concerted effort to woo “hundreds, maybe thousands” of U.S. citizens.
And some of that wooing is being done in “dark space,” or private messaging platforms, where U.S. spy agencies cannot peer into their conversations, which may be about potential terror attacks, FBI Assistant Director Michael Steinbach testified Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, changing forms of Internet communication are quickly outpacing laws and technology designed to allow for the lawful intercept of communication content,” Mr. Steinbach said. “This real and growing gap the FBI refers to as ‘going dark’ is the source of continuing focus for the FBI, it must be urgently addressed as the risks associated with ‘going dark’ are grave both in traditional criminal matters as well as in national security matters.”
Through online propaganda and covert communication, the Islamic State “has essentially created a terror franchise,” warned Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican during the hearing.
This year, the Islamic State has published more than 1,700 pieces of terrorist propaganda, which includes videos, pictorial reports and magazines, National Counterterrorism Center Deputy Director John Mulligan said Wednesday.
Some of that propaganda has motivated numerous individuals to join the Islamic State’s battle to gain control of Iraq and Syria. To date, at least 3,700 Westerners have traveled or attempted to travel to that battlefield to support the terrorist group and more than 180 of those Westerners have been U.S. citizens, Mr. Taylor said.