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As US-led coalition forces prepare to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, the FBI gave a harrowing assessment on the threat of terrorism back home.
In a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey reiterated the threat that destroying ISIS on the battlefield was bound to create.
“The so-called caliphate will be crushed. The challenge will be: through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of very, very dangerous people,” Comey said according to Politico. “They will not all die on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we’ve never seen before.”
The statement comes at a time when ISIS forces have felt the pressure of airstrikes that have crippled their sources of revenue and control of Iraq. From the ground, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have surrounded Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and one of the remaining ISIS hubs in Iraq.
Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson also echoed Comey’s statement, however, he emphasized that the US’s efforts had been sluggish enough for ISIS to recuperate at different locations.
“We haven’t reduced their capability. The diaspora has already begun,” Johnson said according to Politico. “We’re poking the hive. We’ve done some damage to it but the killer bees are leaving the hive. They’re setting up new hives.”
As far as the quantifiable nature of the threat, Comey has in the past drawn a comparison between ISIS forces and radicalized Al Qaeda militants in the 1980s and 1990s.
“This is 10 times that or more,” he said at a cybersecurity conference in July. “This is an order of magnitude greater than anything we’ve seen before.”
Comey’s concern over the metastasizing threat also mirrored what former FBI special agent Clint Watts wrote over the summer.
“For those homeless foreign fighters, the choice is simple: They can either die in place fighting for a crumbling caliphate or they can go out as martyrs striking their homelands or regional or international targets,” wrote Watts, a Robert A. Fox Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East.
Watts continued, “The Islamic State owns the largest number of homeless foreign fighters in history. As the group loses turf, they’ll likely become part of the largest human missile arsenal in history and be directed against any and all soft targets they can reach.”