Terrorism Warning Lights In The US

From his confirmation hearing to become director of Central Intelligence in May 1997 until September 11, 2001, George Tenet was sounding an alarm about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. In those four years before al Qaeda operatives attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Tenet testified publicly no fewer than ten times about the threat the group posed to U.S. interests at home and abroad. In February 1999, six months after the group bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, he claimed, “There is not the slightest doubt that Osama bin Laden . . . [is] planning further attacks against us.” In early 2000, he warned Congress again that bin Laden was “foremost among these terrorists, because of the immediacy and seriousness of the threat he poses” and because of his ability to strike “without additional warning.”

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Two and a half decades later, Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, is sounding similar alarms. His discussions within the Biden administration are private, but his testimony to Congress and other public statements could not be more explicit. Testifying in December to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wray said, “When I sat here last year, I walked through how we were already in a heightened threat environment.” Yet after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, “we’ve seen the threat from foreign terrorists rise to a whole nother level,” he added. In speaking about those threats, Wray has repeatedly drawn attention to security gaps at the United States’ southern border, where thousands of people each week enter the country undetected.

Wray is not the only senior official issuing warnings. Since he became commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in 2022, General Erik Kurilla has been pointing out the worrying capabilities of the terrorist groups his forces are fighting in the Middle East and South Asia. These include al Qaeda, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and especially Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), the ISIS affiliate that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Christine Abizaid, the outgoing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, described “an elevated global threat environment” while speaking at a conference in Doha last month.

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In a brief statement, the Department of Homeland Security said, “Over the last few days, ICE agents arrested several non-citizens pursuant to immigration authorities. The actions were carried out in close coordination with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). The individuals arrested are detained in ICE custody pending removal proceedings … The FBI and DHS will continue working around the clock with our partners to identify, investigate, and disrupt potential threats to national security.” Despite acknowledging only seven arrests, multiple news outlets citing sources have confirmed eight.

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The arrests occurred in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. The individuals reportedly entered the US via the southern border. ICE collaborated in the operation and is seeking to deport those taken into custody.

The targets, who were from Tajikistan, managed to pass through US screening processes. CBS News noted that while there was no active terror plot, the individuals’ entry and subsequent activities raised concerns, leading authorities to act preemptively. Police had been monitoring the individuals and obtained a wiretap with one of the targets “talking about bombs.”