When Islamic State released its second video depicting the beheading of an American journalist this week, the world turned its collective indignation toward the brutal Islamist organization.
While much has been written of the terror group’s desire to establish an Islamic caliphate across much of the Middle East, what has been less discussed are the homeland security implications of a resurgent and expansive Islamic State, emboldened by the tepid response of an Obama administration seemingly caught off guard by its rapid gains in northern Iraq and parts of Syria.
Islamic State, otherwise called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has earned distinction for its bloodlust and sheer brutality. Born out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State’s cadre of leaders, nominally led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, have transformed the terror organization from relative obscurity into a leading disruptive force in the Middle East.
This undated image posted on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 by the Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group, a Syrian opposition group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows a fighter of the Islamic State group waving their flag from inside a captured government fighter jet following the battle for the Tabqa air base, in Raqqa, Syria on Sunday. (AP Photo/ Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group)
Once reduced to fewer than 1,000 members, Islamic State began coalescing support among disparate Islamist groups within Iraq and Syria following President Barack Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. The ensuing campaign of territorial expansion has seen Islamic State grow into a leading Islamist movement, one not only rivaling Al Qaeda for regional dominance but also one whose growth increasingly threatens U.S. interests, both regionally and at home.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, his own kingdom threatened by the expansion of Islamic State, warned the West of Islamic State’s potential reach.
"Terrorism must be fought with force, reason and speed,” Abdullah declared, finally warning that, “I am sure they will arrive in Europe in a month and in the U.S. a month after that.”
But what threat does Islamic State pose to the U.S. homeland? Is Islamic State capable of perpetrating a 9/11 style attack against the U.S.?
The "Tribute in Light" memorial is in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, in honor of the citizens who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks. The two towers of light are composed of two banks of high wattage spotlights that point straight up from a lot next to Ground Zero. The ÃTribute in LightÃ memorial was first held in March 2002. This photo was taken from Liberty State Park, New Jersey on September11, 2006, the five year anniversary of 9/11. USAF photo by Denise Gould.
No, according to the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen.
“ISIL is not Al Qaeda pre 9/11. We are not what we were pre 9/11. We are so much better postured, in so many ways, to see, detect, stop any attack like what we saw on 9/11,” stated Olsen.
That may be so, but the threats posed by Islamic State and its acolytes are not relegated to 9/11 style attacks alone. The grandiosity and scope of an attack the scale of 9/11 may consume much of the public’s attention and concern but it is far from the most likely tactic by which the terror organization could inflict considerable damage upon the American homeland.
Only a handful of motivated individuals, having procured a cache of small arms and possessing only a rudimentary knowledge of tactical close-quarter combat could endeavor to perpetrate a devastating attack against any number of soft targets within the United States.
If multiple such attacks were executed in concert, the resulting event would produce mass chaos and strain the capabilities of even the most sophisticated law enforcement organizations in the country.
Such an attack, notably like that which took place in Mumbai in 2008, have demonstrated just how deadly they can be. In Mumbai, Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist terror group in South Asia, managed to kill 166 people and injure hundreds more in 12 coordinated attacks across one of the world’s most populous cities.
Smoke billowed out of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai during a firefight on Saturday. (Harish Tyagi/European Pressphoto Agency)
And while legitimate concern surrounds the potential for terrorists entering the United States through our nation’s porous Southern border, the advent of the foreign fighter renders the potential for the formation of terror cells within the United States even more disconcerting.
The Wall Street Journal reported that, “roughly a dozen Americans have gone to fight with Islamic State militants, with at least two killed recently while fighting with the group.” More worrisome is that the FBI is, “tracking more than 100 Americans who have gone to Syria to fight with different jihadist militant groups, though the FBI has said it doesn't know how many Americans it has missed.”
Foreign fighters returning to their country of origin or lone-wolf radicals inspired by the inflammatory rhetoric of Islamic State militants pose a significant and increasing threat to the American homeland.
The Obama administration can mitigate some of that danger by taking a more active and aggressive stand against the depravations of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. A failure to do so will only embolden the terror group and heighten the likelihood that they turn their attention toward western targets.
At home, the law enforcement community and the public at large must remain vigilant and be actively aware of the myriad threats posed by terror groups like Islamic State. Complacency may have marked the Obama administration’s attitude toward Islamic State until recently but it cannot be the prevailing attitude moving forward.
Scott G. Erickson is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and is a conservative writer and law enforcement professional from California. He can be found at www.scottgerickson.com or @SGErickson
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