WASHINGTON — Homeland Security officials warned Wednesday they don’t have a full picture of the Americans and Europeans heading to Syria to train with ISIS and therefore can’t stop them from coming into the US.
“We don’t have a fulsome picture in all cases,” said Jennifer Lasley, a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security.
“It does concern us,” added Troy Miller, an acting assistant commissioner with US Customs and Border Protection.
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) called the situation worrisome.
“You don’t know what you don’t know. We only have estimates of how many Westerners … are in ISIS ranks, and potentially thousands that we do not know who they are,” he said.
At issue is the rising threat of ISIS terrorists who have recruited Americans and Europeans to their jihadist cause and radicalized those fighters in Syria. Americans and Western allies can travel easily into the US under visa waiver programs, raising huge concerns they’ll return home with murderous intentions.
“Terrorists could be just one visa-free flight away from arriving in the United States,” said Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairwoman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, who held a congressional hearing on the matter Wednesday.
She’s introducing legislation to revoke passports of Americans who traveled abroad for terrorist training.
Terrorists could be just one visa-free flight away from arriving in the United States.- Rep. Candice Miller
Members of Congress cited estimates that 12,000 foreigners have traveled to Syria to engage in the civil war, including more than 1,000 Europeans and more than 100 Americans, with a dozen Americans believed to be fighting alongside ISIS.
“ISIS is a threat to the United States and to the people of the United States,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
“We may be reminded on 9/11 the count was approximately 19 who created the most heinous terrorist attack, killing more than 3,000.”
One Frenchman who trained with ISIS went to Brussels to murder four people at a Jewish museum in May, authorities say.
State Department and Homeland Security leaders said they’ve been working diligently with the tools at their disposal, including constantly upgrading border security procedures, reviewing the terror watch list and vetting visas.
“Though we currently have no credible information to indicate that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland, we remain concerned in the long term that their access to Westerners … will allow them to plan and coordinate attacks in the US,” Lasley said.