FBI Director James Comey told a conference at Fordham University that defeated ISIS fighters would spread throughout Western Europe and the United States, and pose a threat to the U.S. greater than al-Qaida in the lead up to 9/11.
Comey elaborated the U.S. Anti-ISIS coalition will eventually succeed against ISIS, but that “through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of really dangerous people.” Comey called the phenomenon a “terrorist diaspora” and drew a parallel to the spread of al-Qaida fighters after the Afghan jihad in the late 1980s and 1990s, saying the defeated ISIS fighters will be “10 times that or more.”
Veteran fighters of Osama bin Laden’s Afghan jihad went on to carry out attacks such as 9/11, the embassy bombings in Africa, and the 2000 bombing of a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Aden. Comey said the attacks in Paris and Brussels were a preview of a “challenge that is going to come.” The Paris attacks were carried out by Syrian battlefield veterans, and received direction and funding from ISIS’s core territory.
Comey’s warnings highlight an element of the fight against ISIS rarely discussed by President Barack Obama and his administration. The administration and Pentagon have long defined success against ISIS in terms of territory seized in Iraq and Syria. After a single week in which ISIS killed more than 350 people across four different countries, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters attacks do not “alter the strategy.”
There are currently no public coalition plans in place to deal with Western citizens captured in Iraq and Syria, or to prevent their return to Western Europe. Worse, western European citizens can enter the U.S. without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. On Sunday night, a former fighter for Islamic State of Iraq blew himself up in a bar in Ansbach, Germany, after posing as a Syrian refugee, possibly previewing the future of terrorism in the West.
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