- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

FULTON, Mo. (AP) - Thousands of Syrian refugees eventually bound for the U.S. will be screened “carefully” to ensure that none of them are terrorists, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday.

During a keynote speech at the Missouri college where Winston Churchill made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech seven decades ago, Johnson offered no clarity on how quickly the vetting of the 10,000 refugees from the war-torn country that the U.S. plans to accept during the coming year will be done, or whether it can be expedited.

“It’s something we’re evaluating right now,” Johnson said during the question-and-answer portion session after his remarks at Westminster College, a 2,000-student private school.

When asked directly by a reporter about whether the screenings will be expedited, Johnson said, “We want to try to accomplish the vetting and resettlement in a certain time frame.” He didn’t elaborate.

Johnson’s assurances come amid concerns that extremists from the Islamic State could blend in with the asylum seekers and circumvent the security checks.

The United States is making plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming budget year, a significant increase from the 1,500 people who have been cleared to resettle. But these would be people already waiting resettlement clearance, not any of the more than 464,000 refugees that have flooded into Europe in recent months.

Some major U.S. cities are rolling out the welcome mat. Last week, the mayor of St. Louis - already home to thousands of Bosnians - said that accepting any displaced Syrians “is the right thing to do,” even though it’s unclear how many will land there.

Regardless, Johnson cautioned against undue fear.

“In this environment, the first impulse may be to suspect all Muslims living among us in this country are potential terrorists,” he said. “The reality is the self-proclaimed Islamic State does not represent the Islamic faith, and we must not confuse the two.”

Johnson is the latest high-ranking figure to take part in Westminster’s speaker series, joining former presidents Harry Truman and Gerald Ford and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

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