Federal authorities are becoming increasingly concerned over American citizens who are fighting with al-Qaida in places like Syria and returning radicalized to the homeland, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The threat comes from native-born as well as American converts to Islam who are discontented and predisposed to violence, Jane Harman of the Wilson Center told the House Homeland Security Committee at a Jan. 15 hearing.
"Lone wolves are a big part of this problem," she said. "We need to have an effective system that can spot bad guys and prevent and disrupt plots against us."
Harman is herself a former chairwoman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee.
FBI Director James Comey said the threat from radicalized Americans is "something we are intensely focused on." The bureau is trying to figure out who, after travelling overseas, should be tracked and who has already been recruited by al-Qaida groups.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that "al-Qaida is not on the run, but is in fact growing in strength at an alarming rate across the Middle East and North Africa."
His remarks were echoed by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who noted that while al-Qaida today is less centralized, "in many ways the threat is more dangerous than it was before."
Comey told the hearing that tracking al-Qaida since it metastasized into splinter groups in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Africa is a challenge.
These splinter groups have played a key role in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, in Syria, and in Africa.
Americans who joined groups affiliated with al-Qaida in recent years include:
- Nicole Lynn Mansfield of Flint, Mich., who was killed fighting against the Assad government in Syria. Mansfield converted to Islam and married a Muslim man whom she apparently met in America.
- U.S. Army Pvt. Eric Harroun of Tucson, who fought in Syria with the Nusra Front.
- Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi, who was recruited in Pakistan to blow-up a subway car in New York City.
- Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who planned to detonate a car bomb in Times Square after returning from a trip to Pakistan.
The FBI is also monitoring Somali-Americans from Minnesota who traveled to Africa to fight alongside Islamist militants.
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