DHS ‘Tracking’ Foreign Fighters in U.S. Affiliated with Terrorist Groups

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his department is actively “tracking” individuals who have re-entered the U.S. after fighting alongside ISIS and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Johnson was asked about a recent congressional report that found more than 25,000 foreigners traveled to Syria and Iraq since 2011 to fight with Islamist terrorist groups such as ISIS.

“We estimate that approximately 250 have left this country or attempted to leave to go to Iraq and Syria and there are some, not very large numbers, but there are some who have come back who we are tracking very carefully but there is definitely an unknown factor, broken travel, hidden travel,” Johnson said at the Washington Ideas Forum.

“But we have systems in place to track those individuals and that is something this committee recommends and we are making pretty aggressive steps to do – to learn how to track people who engage in broken travel involves working with foreign governments like the government of Turkey, for example, on what they see,” he added.

Johnson said more “information sharing” among countries, particularly between the U.S. and its European partners, is key to tracking terrorists. Johnson mentioned the requirements countries have to follow to be part of the U.S. visa waiver program, such as allowing more federal marshals on flights and using the INTERPOL database.

“Without a doubt, ISIS has enormous strength” on the ground in Iraq and Syria, he said.

“Through our military campaign we have taken out a number of leaders and from my perspective here in the homeland, what I see is the global terrorist threat to our country has evolved away from, in addition to, the terrorist directed attacks that are exported into this country like 9/11 to terrorist inspired attacks through social media,” Johnson added.

He explained that “a so-called lone wolf” could be inspired by something he sees from inside the U.S., which requires an all-of-government approach such as countering violent extremism at home.

Johnson said the U.S. has to “control” the amount of foreign fighters entering Iraq and Syria, calling it a “serious issue.”

Johnson recommended the U.S. help countries such as Turkey to “secure their own border.”

The moderator, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, asked Johnson how the government plans to screen the large number of Syrian refugees attempting to come to the U.S.