WASHINGTON – Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, warned that ISIS and its affiliates have expanded to 20 countries and that the terrorist group is connected to 80 percent of the 1,000 terrorist plots being investigated by the FBI.
“Two years into the fight, our Iraqi partners are making some progress in clearing ISIS outposts but I worry they cannot hold the territory they take back and in Syria; we still do not have a coherent ground force. The president’s original strategy — a $500 million program to train and equip local rebels — has been suspended because it failed miserably to train or equip anyone capable of confronting ISIS,” McCaul said during an event at George Washington University titled “The Terrorist Exodus: Resurgent Radicalism & The Threat To The West.”
“In the meantime, the Iranian-Russian intervention has strengthened Assad, which our commanders privately admit has benefitted ISIS…even as terrorists lose some ground in Syria and Iraq, globally they are gaining new ground. ISIS and its affiliates are presently in nearly 20 countries, from Algeria to the Philippines and as they expand, so does the danger to our people and our allies,” he added.
McCaul, who recently led a congressional delegation on a trip to the Middle East, stressed that the U.S. is not winning the war against Islamic extremism.
“Violent extremists are not on the run as the president claims. They are on the march and expanding at great cost to the free world,” he said. “Today we worry about more than just terrorist cells — we worry about full-fledged terrorist armies as they capture territory and enlist thousands to join their ranks.”
In Syria and Iraq, McCaul said the world is witnessing “the largest global convergence of Islamist terrorists” in modern history.
“All you have to do is look at the numbers. More than 40,000 aspiring jihadists have entered the conflict zone providing groups like ISIS with a larger fighting force than entire nation-states like Denmark or Norway and in some ways, terrorists have put together a broader coalition than the one trying to defeat them,” he said.
“At last count, we have brought together 66 countries to fight terror in Syria. But jihadists, on the other hand, have recruits from more than 120 countries that have joined the fight on the other side,” he added.
McCaul cautioned that ISIS has become more dangerous than al-Qaeda when Osama bin Laden was alive.
“In fact, the group has been linked to almost 90 terrorist plots to attack Western targets since 2011 — an unprecedented figure. This new generation of terrorists has franchised their violence by ‘crowd-sourcing’ attacks through social media and recruiting through tweets,” he said. “These tactics represent a lethal evolution in our enemies’ ability to spread destruction. As I speak, ISIS operatives in Syria are breaching our borders digitally to enlist Americans.”
According to McCaul, the U.S. homeland is now in the highest terror threat environment since 2001, the year of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Today the FBI is investigating 1,000 homegrown terror cases — 80 percent of which are ISIS-related — across all 50 states and in the past two years, federal authorities have arrested more than 80 ISIS supporters right here in the homeland. In fact, in 2015 we saw the highest number of homegrown terror plots we have ever tracked in a single year,” he said.
McCaul said ISIS has been tied to about two dozen known terrorist plots in the U.S., including the San Bernardino massacre.
“Luckily, many of these plots we have stopped, but the group has more in the pipeline. They aspire to pull off Paris- and Brussels-style attacks here in the homeland, and we believe they are determined to hit us again this year,” he said. “Although our nation is shielded by two oceans, geography alone cannot protect us.”
McCaul told the audience the disappearance of the Egyptian airliner last week was “likely” an act of terrorism, specifically a bomb being placed on board somehow. McCaul said aviation security is an issue that keeps him up at night.
“Either one using a timing device that would have started out of Cairo or whether it was luggage put in the cargo hold in Paris as it departed for Cairo. This is the kind of threat that keeps you up at night,” he said. “They [terrorists] are still very intent on hitting the aviation sector. They are very good at their bomb-making capabilities.”