Why Is AG Eric Holder Suddenly More Worried About Terrorism?

airport travel

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder has really ramped up his anti-terrorism rhetoric, his degree of concern becoming much more tangible given the developments in Syria and Iraq recently. He gave a speech last week and spoke to ABC News over the weekend on his increasing unease with the situation.

U.S. intelligence officials estimate that nearly 23,000 violent extremists are currently operating in Syria,” said Holder in a speech encouraging international cooperation on terrorism. “Among these are over 7,000 foreign fighters — among whom are dozens of Americans, a number that is growing … and because our citizens can freely travel, visa-free, from the U.S. to Norway and other European states — and vice versa — the problem of fighters in Syria returning to any of our countries is a problem for all of our countries,” he said.

Of particular concern has been news that the group of bomb makers involved in the underwear bomb plot in 2009 have re-emerged. The 2009 plot involved an al-Qaeda member, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who nearly succeeding in triggering a bomb sewn into his underwear while flying on a Northwest Airlines flight of nearly 300 people. The design for the bomb was done by a group of Yemeni bomb makers who may now be working with Syrian militants. According to ABC, some reports describe bombs that could be hidden in a cellphone or computer and that would be difficult to detect.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced July 2 in a statement that he had asked the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to “implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States.” He noted that “aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, informed by an evolving environment.”

When asked about new airline security increases being seen in international airports, Holder stated the sudden changes are hardly random. “This is not a test,” said Holder to ABC. “This is something — we’re doing something in reaction to things that we have detected.” Part of the recent increase in security may have had to do with the passing of July 4, as terrorists have historically chosen major dates and holidays during which to stage attacks. “I think we are at a dangerous time,” said Holder. “In some ways it’s more frightening than anything I’ve seen as Attorney General,” said Holder of events overseas; “9/11 was something that kind of came out of the blue. This is a situation we can see developing and the negative potential that I see coming out of the facts in Syria and Iraq now are quite concerning.”

The AG’s has ramped up his political rhetoric on the “need to adopt a multilateral four-pronged strategy to combat this threat.” A heightened concern is also driving a greater emphasis on preventative and combative measures. “We have dozens of investigation that are underway, the FBI is on top of these,” said Holder.

In particular, during his July 13 speech, Holder called for other nations to consider a statute comparable to the one that the U.S. and other nations have banning “material support” or “preparatory acts” of terrorism. Other U.S. representatives have been working on efforts across different fronts. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraq’s former Speaker of the Council of Representatives Osama al-Nujaifi who has elected to step down in the next election so as to expedite the selection of new leadership and the stabilization of Iraq.

Both leaders [Biden and Nujaifi] agreed that all Iraqi political forces must work to form a new government that enjoys a broad national acceptance as rapidly as possible,” reports the White House readout. Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has already taken major Iraqi cities, blurring the border between Syria and Iraq. On July 13, militants raided an area only an hour out from Baghdad, the country’s capital — according to The New York Times.

According to ABC, ISIL has “allegedly” acquired a low-grade radioactive resource that could be put towards construction of a dirty bomb. On top of that, a stockpile of stolen weapons has contributed to the militant groups firepower, and additional funding for the group has been obtained through theft and militant activity.

Holder told ABC that while ISIS is not presently a threat to the U.S. while it fights for control of Iraq, should it cement itself in the area it would eventually move on to targeting the U.S. and other nations. If a base of operations is more secure and there are resources and attention to spare, our risk factor will eventually rise. ISIS, it should be noted, is often used interchangeable with the term ISIL, which is simply referring to the groups control of a more broad geographical region of the Levant, rather than just Syria.

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