FBI director hails arrest in Benghazi attack
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that roughly 100 people have left the United States to join the conflict in Syria, and the threat posed by those travelers when they return home is something he worries about “every single day.”
Comey made the remarks as he visited the Minneapolis Division of the FBI, as part of his plan to visit all 56 FBI field offices by the end of this year. His stop in Minnesota comes just weeks after authorities said they believed some young Somali men left the state to join rebels fighting in Syria.
Local FBI spokesman Kyle Loven on Tuesday placed the number of travelers from Minnesota at “a handful.”
Comey’s visit also came on the day authorities announced the arrest of a Libyan militant in the deadly 2012 assault on Americans in Benghazi. Comey said the arrest of Ahmed Abu Khattala marked a good day for law enforcement and the FBI won’t stop until it holds all those responsible for the attack accountable.
“We will shrink the world to find you. We will shrink the world to bring you to justice,” Comey said.
Comey, who became FBI director in September, said the terrorism threat of today is different from the threat the U.S. faced when he was last in government eight years ago. He likened it to a cancer, saying that while the U.S. has made progress against the central tumor, or the central al-Qaida organization, there are other branches out there doing damage.
“The threat has spread, metastasized,” he said, adding: “The traveler problem makes it even more difficult, because the people going to Syria are not from any particular demographic. They’re not from any particular part of the United States.
“This traveler thing is not a New York thing. It’s not a Washington thing. It’s not an LA thing. It’s an everywhere thing,” he added.
Agents in Minnesota have seen this before. Since late 2007, at least 22 young men left the state to join the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia. Some of the men died there, some remain at large and others were prosecuted for their role in what the FBI said was one of the largest efforts to recruit U.S. fighters to a foreign terrorist organization. That investigation is still active.
The local FBI office has spent years reaching out to Somali community leaders and activists, in hopes of identifying at-risk youth and preventing radicalization and recruiting. Comey said the Minnesota office is a model for the way the FBI has worked to build relationships in the community, and for the way state, local and federal agencies work together.
Comey also said the bureau has worked hard to stop radicalization, and has locked up a number of people who aspired to travel. He did not have specifics on numbers of arrests, or details on whether any of those arrests were in Minnesota.
Even with efforts in community outreach, he said, finding the source of terror recruiting and stopping people from traveling has proven difficult.
“To stop them in the first instance is challenging. If we miss that, what we try to do is identify them when they are over there, and track them so we can follow them when they come back,” he said.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concern about the influence of hard-line jihadists who are among the rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Officials say fighters from the U.S. or Europe looking to join the cause could become radicalized and import those influences and terrorist skills when they return home.
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