FBI Chief: Flood of Americans Leaving to Join Islamic State Drops to Trickle

AP Photo/Nasser Nasser
AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

The flow of Americans traveling overseas to engage in jihad on behalf of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has dropped dramatically, indicated FBI Director James Comey during a press conference.

Nevertheless, he added that there are “north of 1,000” cases in which FBI agents are in the process of evaluating a subject’s level of radicalization and potential for violence. An estimated 80 percent are linked to ISIS.

“There’s still a presence online, and troubled people are still turning to this and at least being interested in it,” Comey told reporters Wednesday. “But they’ve lost their ability to attract people to their caliphate from the United States in a material way.”

In 2014 and the first half of 2015, the FBI was encountering “six, eight, 10” Americans per month who traveled to the Middle East or attempted to go there to join the jihadist group, noted the FBI chief.

However, he said that number has since dropped to an average of one person per month.

“There’s no doubt that something has happened that is lasting, in terms of the attractiveness of the nightmare which is the Islamic State to people from the United States,” declared Comey.

His comments echoed what Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the U.S.-led campaign against the ISIS in the Middle East, told Pentagon reporters in late April.

He said the number of foreign fighters from various countries traveling to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS had dropped by 90 percent, from nearly 2,000 per month to 200 within the past year.

Although Comey did not offer an explanation for the decline, Maj. Gersten told reporters that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes that have targeted the jihadist group’s infrastructure have contributed to the drop in foreign fighters.

Another reason for the decline could be that ISIS has encouraged its supporters to carry out attacks at home.

In the last year, the FBI has worked aggressively to monitor and intercept Americans interested in joining ISIS in the Middle East.

While the number of foreign fighters traveling to Iraq and Syria has significantly dropped, Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, told Pentagon reporters in early April that the number ISIS jihadists in Libya who aspire to attack Europe or the United States has more than doubled to between 4,000 and 6,000 in the last 12 to 18 months.

He did not specify how many of those fighters are American, if any. Gen. Rodriguez did note that ISIS’s stronghold in Libya is in the port city of Sirte, which sits only a few hundred miles across the Mediterranean Sea from the shores of Europe.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that Comey’s comments come as “the Obama administration is grappling with a renewed show of force by Islamic State militants as they advanced again toward the ancient Syrian crossroads of Palmyra and exposed the Iraqi capital’s frailty through a series of deadly car bomb attacks.”

“American officials said Wednesday the U.S. wasn’t shifting its strategy for defeating the extremist group in either country,” it adds. “But the violence across the two central [ISIS] battlefields illustrated how the U.S.-led campaign remains dependent on weak allies and even sometimes local leaders and forces that Washington opposes.”


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