New Delhi, Saturday, 09 May 2015
ISIS ONLINE INFLUENCE GROWING IN US: FBI
by S Rajagopalan | Washington
In the aftermath of the abortive Charlie Hebdo-style terror attack in Texas last Sunday, FBI chief James Comey believes there may be “thousands” of people inside the United States who are online followers of ISIS and are consuming its venomous propaganda. “I know there are other Elton Simpsons out there,” Comey was quoted by ABC News as saying, adding his agency has “a very hard task” in trying to identify people who may feel inspired by the ISIS to launch attacks insider the US homeland.
Simpson was one of the two men shot dead by the police in Garland, Texas outside the venue of a cartoon contest on Prophet Mohammad. The 30-year-old Simpson, who had converted to Islam while in high school, had been indicted by FBI in 2011 for planning to travel to Somalia to engage in “violent jihad”.
Comey, speaking to a group of reporters, said the FBI has hundreds of investigations of potential home grown extremists under way, with cases open in every State. But the FBI’s efforts have become particularly challenging because ISIS has reconfigured and redefined terrorist recruitment, Comey was quoted as saying. Saying the task of tracking extremists was like finding a needle in a haystack, Comey remarked: “Increasingly the needles are invisible to us.”
While investigators can follow messages posted on public twitter accounts, the FBI chief spoke of ISIS recruiters steering people off Twitter into encrypted forums, which government agencies cannot see. ISIS has been using social media in a big way, putting out messages in pockets of Americans and other foreigners urging them to “travel to the so-called caliphate to fight”, conveying at the same time: “If you can’t travel, kill where you are.”
“The siren song sits in the pockets, on the mobile phones, of the people who are followers on Twitter,” Comey said, adding: “It’s almost as if there’s a devil sitting on the shoulder, saying ‘Kill, kill, kill’ all day long.” Despite the problems cited in keeping a tab on mushrooming of online followers, Comey said that in the Texas case, the FBI did send to the Garland police authorities an intelligence bulletin three hours before the attack that Simpson might be “interested in the event”.
He, however, admitted that the FBI had no reason to believe that Simpson intended to carry out an attack. It also did not know that Simpson, a resident of Phoenix, was already on his way to the place. The ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the Texas attack, asserted in another online posting two days ago that it has 71 trained guerrillas in 15 States of US.