Bombing fails to halt IS recruiting
The bombing campaign against militants in Iraq and Syria has failed to slow the pace of foreign fighters flocking to join Islamic State and other extremist groups, US intelligence officials say.
In an updated estimate of a major terrorism concern, the figures include at least 3,400 from Western nations among 20,000 from around the world.
Intelligence agencies believe as many as 150 Americans have tried and some have succeeded in reaching the Syrian war zone, officials told the House Homeland Security Committee. Some of those were arrested en route, some died in the area and a small number were still fighting with extremists.
Nick Rasmussen, chief of the National Counterterrorism Centre, said the rate of foreign fighter travel to Syria is without precedent, far exceeding the rate of foreigners who went to wage jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia at any other point in the past 20 years.
Officials fear some of the foreign fighters will return undetected to their homes in Europe or the US to mount terrorist attacks. At least one of the men responsible for the attack on a satirical magazine in Paris had spent time with Islamic extremists in Yemen.
Meanwhile, the White House has circulated a proposal for Congress to authorise the US military to fight IS terrorists over the next three years. A formal request for legislation is expected later today.
Also at the White House, President Barack Obama praised Kayla Jean Mueller, the young American whose death was confirmed yesterday. She died while in Islamic State hands, though the group blamed a Jordanian air strike.
"No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla's captivity and death," Mr Obama said.
As for foreign fighters, officials acknowledge it has been hard to track the Americans and Europeans who have made it to Syria, where IS is the dominant force trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad. The US Embassy in Syria is closed, and the CIA has no permanent presence on the ground.
"Once in Syria, it is very difficult to discern what happens there," according to the evidence of Michael Steinbach, the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism. "This lack of clarity remains troubling."
The estimate of 20,000 fighters from 90 countries is up from 19,000, Mr Rasmussen will tell the House committee. The number of Americans or US residents who have gone or tried to go is up to 150 from 50 a year ago and 100 in the autumn.
Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the committee, said in his prepared remarks that the Syrian war had created "the largest convergence of Islamist terrorists in world history". Sustained bombing by a US-led coalition has not stopped the inflow, he noted.
Mr McCaul's committee staff compiled from public sources a list of 18 US citizens or residents who joined or attempted to join IS, and 18 others who tried to or succeeded in joining other violent Islamic groups.