Some of the estimated 100 Americans who have tried to get to Syria and join up with groups like the Islamic State have returned to the United States and are under FBI scrutiny, a top official told reporters on Monday.
For months, top American officials have warned that U.S. citizens trying to swell the ranks of the Islamic State and other groups fighting to topple Bashar Assad pose an exceptional security risk.
Asked whether there were 100 Americans now in Syria, a senior administration official told reporters that the figure “includes those who’ve gone, those who’ve tried to go, some who’ve come back and who are under active – the FBI is looking at them.” The official was speaking at a briefing organized by the White House; the ground rules required that the official be anonymous.
Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the administration’s concerns in an interview with MSNBC.
“We have over a hundred fighters there from America. They have passports. They can come back here,” having acquired deadly expertise on Syrian battlefields, Kerry said.
On Sept. 17, President Obama chaired a special meeting of his national security team that focused on the danger posed by American fighters joining the foreign cause.
“With respect to the Americans who may be engaged in combat in Iraq and Syria, this is something that our national security agencies and counterterrorism team are taking very seriously,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Friday.
“It’s something we track closely. And we are doing obviously all that we can to both gather the necessary information and take the appropriate precautions to the greatest extent that we possibly can,” Rice said.
Asked whether 100 was a relatively low number that might signal success in keeping Americans off Syrian battlefields, the anonymous official replied: “I think that success is 0.”
“One American going is too much.”