Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly warned Tuesday that the terror threat to the U.S. is “as threatening” as it was on 9/11.
“The threat to our nation and our American way of life has not diminished," he said during a speech at George Washington University. "In fact, the threat has metastasized and decentralized, and the risk is as threatening today as it was that September morning almost 16 years ago."
Kelly specifically pointed to the danger of homegrown terrorists and foreign fighters who have gone to Syria and Iraq with plans to return home.
There isn’t a single state that the FBI doesn’t have open terror investigations in, he said, adding that since 2013 there have been 37 plots to attack the U.S. linked to ISIS.
Law enforcement agencies have investigated 36 cases of homegrown terrorism over the last 12 months, illustrating what Kelly called an "unprecedented spike" in a type of violence that is "notoriously difficult to predict and control."
And the Internet is playing a major role in fueling this homegrown violence, he said, pointing to cellphones as a tool used by jihadists to spread their message and provide "how-to" manuals for building explosives.
"If you are a terrorist with an Internet connection, like the one on your ever-present cellphone, you can recruit new soldiers, plan attacks and upload a video calling for jihad with just a few clicks," Kelly said. "And thanks to new and ever improving and proliferating encryption and secure communication techniques, it'll be a lot harder to find you and stop you before you take innocent lives."
While the US-led coalition has seen "wins" against ISIS and other radical groups on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, "the expectation is that many of these 'holy warriors' will survive, departing for their home countries to wreak murderous havoc," he said.
Fighters from Asia and Europe, who have been trained by ISIS or other radical groups to make improvised explosive devices and acquired experience on the battlefield, are bringing those skills home.
FBI Director James Comey issued a similar warning last month about the “terrorist diaspora” that will happen when the Islamic State’s territory is “crushed” by the U.S.-led coalition.