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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider

Posted: 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

No imminent Islamic State threat seen in US 

By Jamie Dupree

While a top counter terrorism official said the U.S. has no credible evidence that Islamic State militants are planning some kind of attack on the U.S. homeland, intelligence agencies are closely watching for Americans who might have gone to the Middle East, and then could then return home at some point with terrorism plans.

"We think over a hundred Americans have traveled to Syria," said Matthew Olsen, the head of the National Counter Terrorism Center.

"Now, to be clear - we don't know how many of those have joined ISIL," Olsen told a Washington, D.C. symposium at the Brookings Institution on the threat from IS.

During a Q&A session with reporters, Olsen was asked directly if there was any intelligence information suggesting that the Islamic State had been able to send people to the U.S., waiting for the signal to launch a terrorist attack.

Olsen flatly said there was no evidence of that.

"Look - no indication of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States," Olsen said firmly, adding the current concern of U.S. intelligence is not about groups of Islamic State terrorists making it to America.

"We're mindful and vigilant about the possibility of individuals, more likely on their own, one or two, coming back" who might have traveled to Syria, Olsen said, who would then be able to return to the U.S., using their American passport to easily come back home.

"Again, we've seen that model in Europe, so there's every reason to be concerned about that as a potential," in the U.S., though Olsen repeatedly gave off the feeling that he did not see an IS attack on the homeland as an imminent possibility.

"We're working very hard, not just NCTC, but FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the entire counter terrorism community, along with European partners," the NCTC chief said.

Asked why the United Kingdom has raised their terror threat level and taken more steps to try to intercept possible terrorists, Olsen said it's really just a function of "geographic proximity" - that it is much more easy for someone to get from London to Syria, than from the United States.

"The situation is more pronounced in the UK, in terms of foreign fighters traveling to those countries and then returning home," Olsen told reporters and terror experts.

Ranking the threat from terror groups around the world, Olsen said the U.S. still regards core Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as the two most threatening organizations, with the growing Islamic State group next.

Jamie Dupree

About Jamie Dupree

Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog.

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