WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) chief has indicated that one of a few “radical” mosques in the Caribbean has linked itself to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), noting that the number of Islamic extremists in that region intent on attacking Western targets has increased in the last year.
Gen. John Kelly, who oversees security in Latin and South America and is expected to retire from his final military position later this month, briefed Pentagon reporters Thursday.
Last year, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that about 100 recruits had left the Caribbean to join ISIS in Syria.
“I would suspect… that while they’re in Syria they’ll get good at killing and they’ll pick up some real job skills in terms of explosives and beheadings and things like that,” testified Kelly in March 2015. “Everyone is concerned, of course, if they come home because if they go over radicalized, one can expect that they’ll come back at least that radicalized, but with really good job skills.”
At the time, he warned that these ISIS jihadists could return to the Caribbean and use smuggling networks to infiltrate the United States.
“There are a fair amount of Muslims in what were the old English colonies down there [in the Caribbean], Jamaica, and Trinidad, Tobago, a few places like that. Overall, not a huge percentage of the population, but significant,” responded Gen. Kelly, when asked Thursday by a reporter to provide an update on the 100 individuals who had traveled overseas to join ISIS.
“There’s a few very, very radical mosques; one in particular that’s associated itself, himself, the imam with ISIS,” he continued. “We are not seeing huge numbers.”
Gen. Kelly estimated that 100 radicals attempted to join ISIS last year, while 150 have attempted to join the terrorist group as of this year.
The top U.S. general did not specifically say where the ISIS-linked mosque in the Caribbean is located.
Kelly noted that he has seen a shift in extremist leaders’ rhetoric towards would-be jihadists, directing them to carry out attacks from their homes, rather than making the difficult journey to Iraq or Syria. Gen. Kelly told reporters Thursday:
I am more concerned particularly now, it seems like the Islamic extremists and terrorists have shifted a lot of their message, and that is – hey, rather than come to Syria, why don’t you stay at home and do San Bernardino, or do Boston, or do Fort Hood, and my concern as the SOUTHCOM commander, is they can – even just a few of these, you know, nuts can cause an awful lot of trouble down in the Caribbean because they don’t have an FBI, they don’t have law enforcement like we do.
“We work very, very close – again, something that we, as Americans take for granted — It is not only the superb military that you all report on, but the FBI and CIA and the [National Security Agency], and the tremendous law enforcement people we have inside our country,” he continued.
“Most of the countries in the world don’t have anything approaching – and certainly none better,” he added. “So the countries that we work with, again, that partnership issue, we provide them, work with them and give as much information as we can.”
He went on to say that Caribbean countries do not have the same kind of security at their airports that America has, in terms of checking who goes in and out of their country.
“So, we do the best we can to help them,” he declared, adding, “many of these countries have very, very small militaries, if they have militaries at all, and they welcome the help from the United States.”
In March 2015, Gen. Kelly warned the Senate Armed Services Committee Sunni extremists are radicalizing converts and other Muslims in Latin America, including the Caribbean, adding that the ISIS may exploit the knowledge of trafficking organizations in the region to enter the United States.
The top U.S. general also expressed concern about the presence of Iranian terror proxy Hezbollah in the region and the growing Iranian influence in Latin America.
At the time, he revealed that Iran has established more than 80 “cultural centers” in the Latin American region in an effort to promote Shiite Islam. Breitbart News learned that the so-called “cultural centers” are being operated by Hezbollah and Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards-Quds Force to expand Iran’s covert recruitment operations throughout the western hemisphere.