Francis Taylor, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, told a Senate committee this week that the terrorist group has been observed discussing plans to invade the U.S. through its southern border.
“There have been Twitter and social-media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility,” Taylor said in response to a question from Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, reported Bloomberg.
But Taylor expressed confidence about the security along the 1,933-mile border with Mexico.
He said he was “satisfied that we have the intelligence and the capability at our border that would prevent that activity.”
Intelligence officials also said that flare-ups between Mexican drug cartels and ISIS militants would likely take place if the terrorist group tried to move through Mexico.
“The cartels know that terrorist attackers coming through areas they control would almost certainly bring massive retaliation and a militarized border that would threaten their lucrative narcotics-smuggling operations, said two officials, who requested anonymity to discuss classified intelligence assessments,” Bloomberg said, while Nicholas Rasmussen of the National Counterterrorism Center noted that ISIS doesn’t currently have the capability to mount an effective large-scale attack on the United States.”
But officials in Texas and elsewhere along the border are increasingly on alert for militant activity as fears grow of a U.S. invasion.
Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter recently told CNN that his office has been preparing for militants crossing the boarder.
The sheriff said he received an alert bulletin that ISIS — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — may have formed a terrorist cell in or near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a Mexican border city across from El Paso. He said the alert warned law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for such activity, according to MRT.
“If they rear their ugly head, we’ll send them to hell,” he said, while noting that “I think it’d be naive to say that (ISIS is) not here.”
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s call to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans.
“We ought to give the president what he’s asking for,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, although he swiftly added that many Republicans believe the Democratic commander in chief’s strategy is too tepid to crush militants who have overrun parts of Iraq and Syria and beheaded two American journalists.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, to respond to the proposals from President Barack Obama about confronting the new wave of terrorism. On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Republicans and Democrats in Congress voiced strong pre-election support Thursday for President Barack Obama’s call for new authority to combat Islamic State militants in the heart of the Middle East. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
On the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expected legislation ratifying Obama’s request to clear Congress by the end of next week when lawmakers hope to wrap up their work and go home to campaign for re-election.
Congress’ two other top officials, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, also said Obama would likely get the support he seeks.
Congress is in the midst of a two-week session that had been expected to focus on domestic issues, principally legislation to extend routine government funding beyond the end of the Sept. 30 budget year. That agenda changed abruptly on Wednesday night, when Obama delivered a prime-time speech from the White House seeking “additional authorities and resources to train and equip” rebels. The forces are simultaneously trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad and defeat militants seeking to create an Islamist caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.
Obama says he already has the authority to order airstrikes against militants in Syria, although so far, those attacks have come only in neighboring Iraq.
The White House and many lawmakers say deployment of U.S. troops to train and equip Syrian rebels — activity planned to take place in Saudi Arabia — would require additional congressional approval.
On the morning after Obama’s speech, the administration deployed a battalion of officials to brief lawmakers, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There was a strong political subtext to the developments, eight weeks before voters pick a new House and settle a struggle for Senate control.
Asked whether the topic would be part of the campaign now unfolding, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who is on the November ballot, said, “Everything is going to be an issue.”
“We do not want to go home without voting on some measure that goes toward destroying and defeating ISISwherever it exists,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, using an alternate acronym for the militants.
Reid accused Republicans of taking cheap political shots at the president, and said, “This is a time for the rhetoric of campaign commercials to go away.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.