With the partisan blame game over the current meltdown in Iraq consuming much of the media's attention, NBC News' chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is reporting on the increased terrorism threat Americans face from ISIS radicals as they establish a stronghold in the crisis-stricken country. Engel -- who was kidnapped and released in Syria in 2012 -- tweeted a series of disquieting assessments from US national security sources (via Noah Rothman):
Multiple US intelligence officials tell NBC News that the current terror threat against US targets from #ISIS is “extremely high”— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) June 30, 2014
Engel's sources say that roughly 70 American nationals have taken up arms with ISIS in the region over the course of the violent unrest, with about a dozen "currently active:"
Americans in #isis. US officials say about seventy US fighters have passed through Syria and about a dozen are currently active there.— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) June 30, 2014
McClatchy reported last week that thousands of Europeans have joined the jihad in Syria, and now Iraq -- worrying counter-terrorism officials, who call the 'tourism terrorism' numbers "unprecedented:"
At least 320 Germans and more than 2,000 other Europeans are thought to have made the trip -- so many that last week Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan asked European nations to stop their citizens wanting to join the fight in Syria and now Iraq from traveling to Turkey...European Union Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove this month noted that the phenomenon of young Muslims leaving Europe to fight elsewhere is decades old. But the current numbers dwarf previous migrations. He described the current flow as “huge.” “Compared to previous jihads, it’s unprecedented,” he said. The trend is openly discussed in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Italy. Europe has long needed immigrant labor, but it has done little to integrate those who come from Muslim regions--North Africa, Pakistan and the Middle East. Their children often grow up without close ties to their adopted nations and end up finding a sense of community online and in the radical splinters of Islam set up to prey upon the lost.
The concern is obvious: Radical Muslims traveling to the Middle East to join the fight, becoming battle-hardened while procuring lethal expertise, then returning to their adoptive countries to carry out attacks against Western targets. Engel's sources confirm that's exactly what they fear, noting that a notorious Al Qaeda bomb-maker is offering his tutelage to ISIS radicals, who are developing skills in the creation of sophisticated improvised explosive devices:
US officials say #ISIS developing bomb making skills and foreign fighters that would enable it to target US, UK and Europe interests.— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) June 30, 2014
#isis has access to top bomb maker? Isis reportedly working with AQAP's Ibrahim al Asiri to develop advanced IEDs.— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) June 30, 2014
These warnings should serve as timely reminders that foreign policy debates are not academic. Developments in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere aren't simply relegated to "over there." Throwing up our hands and demanding that "they" -- whomever that may be -- just "sort it out themselves" is a seductive but dangerous mindset. Regardless of one's thoughts of the decision to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, that country has deteriorated from relative stability (upon our recklessly executed departure) to all-out crisis today. Afghanistan became a safe haven for hardcore Islamist terrorists to launch attacks against the West, which led to the horror of 9/11. If a similar foothold is established in Iraq, that's a bona fide national security threat. Nearly as devastating, it would represent the erasure of the massive gains achieved by our men and women in that country, which came at a terrible price. I'll leave you with this graphic CNN report about the brutal violence gripping Iraq as ISIS terrorists declare the creation of a "caliphate" stretching across large swaths of Syria and Iraq:
Obama sending another 200 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to Iraq. pic.twitter.com/JekcOzUZZD— jennifer bendery (@jbendery) June 30, 2014