News Americas

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Obama warns on 'new phase' of terrorism

Girls who survived what activists said was a ground-to-ground missile attack by forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, hold hands at Aleppo’s Bab al-Hadeed district yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Girls who survived what activists said was a ground-to-ground missile attack by forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, hold hands at Aleppo’s Bab al-Hadeed district yesterday. Photo: Reuters
US President Barack Obama. Photo: AP

Rachael Alexander in Washington

IN HIS third ever Oval Office address President Obama warned that the mass shooting in California showed the terrorist menace has evolved into a "new phase" of less sophisticated, harder-to-detect plots.

But he also pledged that Isil would be destroyed.

What President Obama didn't say is that this evolving threat is among the most difficult to stop. And that was the central tension in Mr Obama's 13-minute speech, a pledge to defeat Isil wrapped around an acknowledgment that the terrorism it inspires keeps growing as a threat.

After criticism - some even from liberal allies - that his statements following the attacks in Paris and California didn't demonstrate sufficient urgency, Mr Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office, a setting he has only used twice before, and one presidents traditionally reserve for moments of crisis.

Mr Obama outlined a stepped-up campaign abroad of air strikes and special forces deployments against Isil strongholds in Iraq and Syria, but offered no new plans for action or strategic shifts.

In the campaign at home, Mr Obama described the San Bernardino attackers as radicalised Muslim-Americans who became lone-wolf terrorists. At the same time, he pleaded with Americans to avoid targeting or denigrating Muslims.

Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were inspired by Isil ideology though not directed by the extremist group, when they opened fire on an office holiday party in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 and wounding 21. That followed other attacks by so-called lone wolves at Fort Hood in 2009, Texas, and at the Boston Marathon in 2013.

"As we've become better at preventing complex multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turn to less complicated acts of violence like mass shootings," Mr Obama said.

"We see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers."


Home-grown extremists are difficult to uncover and pose a challenge for intelligence officials, said James McJunkin, a former counter-terrorism agent at the FBI.

"They are living inside the community and they are doing this in the privacy of their homes," Mr McJunkin said. "Detection becomes the issue."

In more organised terrorism plots, there is likely to be more frequent communication among members and therefore a higher chance they will be detected, he said.

Close relatives like Farook and Malik and the brothers behind the Boston Marathon bombing present greater challenges because their communication is often face to face.

Mr Obama warned: "We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. We must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away."

Home-grown terrorists instil greater fear as they could be any­one to whom radical Jihadism would appeal and because their attacks often are directed at unpredictable targets.

The Paris and San Bernardino attacks come as several leading candidates in the Republican presidential primary have blamed outsider groups for threatening America's economy and security.

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush were not impressed with the speech. Mr Rubio said people were growing scared because "we have a president who is completely overwhelmed" by the terrorist threat.

Mr Bush said: "Obama has finally been forced to abandon the political fantasy he has perpetuated for years that the threat of terrorism was receding."

Overall there were no new policy prescriptions, no fresh military strategies and no timelines. When President Barack Obama seized the spotlight for a rare primetime address on Sunday, he came with one major message: It's going to be OK.

Obama sought to calm nerves and quiet a chorus of critics who charge the president has been too slow to acknowledge the threat posed by Islamic radicalism.

"We will destroy Isil and any other organisation that tries to harm us," he said.

But the lack of new policies underscores the White House's confidence in the current approach and a paucity of good alternatives.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News