New York City’s counter-terrorism chief has claimed that Muslim Americans from the city have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist groups such as Isis, and could return to attack the US.
John Miller, the deputy commissioner of intelligence for the New York Police Department, said New Yorkers were among more than 100 American Muslims fighting with Islamists in the Middle East.
“I would be hyper-concerned about the people over there from New York City on the presumption they’re going to return to New York City,” Millertold the New York Daily News.
But he added that he was equally concerned about jihadists from cities such as “Chicago, Minnesota, Portland, you name it”, and said: “If their mindset is to return to America and to engage in terrorist activities, they’re likely going to end up in New York anyway.”
Miller declined to say how many Americans had travelled overseas to join Isis, the Sunni militia that has swept across Iraq in recent weeks, rather than other Islamist groups more narrowly involved with the Syrian civil war and efforts to overthrow president Bashar al-Assad.
FBI director James Comey last month warned that jihadists blooded in the Syrian conflict could eventually strike the US, like those who masterminded the 9/11 attacks in 2001 years after being trained and radicalised for the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
“All of us with a memory of the 80s and 90s saw the line drawn from Afghanistan in the 80s and 90s to September 11,” said Comey. “We see Syria as that but an order of magnitude worse”.
Asked how seriously the FBI was taking the threat of American jihadists returning to the city, a spokeswoman for the bureau’s New York office said on Friday: “We are aware of the home-grown threat.
“Counter-terrorism is the No1 priority for us. We are always on that issue. We will continue working with our partners in the joint terrorism taskforce such as NYPD.”
Miller’s remarks came soon after the British government disclosed that 40 people had been arrested in the country so far this year – and 25 last year – for “Syria-related activities”.
A spokesman for prime minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that the UK national security council had agreed to try to tackle a growing problem of home-grown Islamist fighters by carrying out border interviews of people suspected of travelling to fight and potentially seizing their passports.
Cameron warned in the House of Commons that those fighting for Isis could one day pose a security threat to British streets, as he urged MPs against isolationism as a response to the crisis in Iraq.
“The people in that regime, as well as trying to take territory, are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom. So the right answer is to be long term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent with the interventions that we make,” Cameron said.
US intelligence officials reportedly believe that between six and 12 Americans who went to Syria to fight Assad have since returned to the US. “We know where some are,” one official reportedly told the Daily Beast last month. “The concern is the scale of the problem we are dealing with.”
Much of the focus in the US has fallen on the twin cities of Minneapolis-St Paul in Minnesota, where a series of men rooted in a large Somali expatriate community are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight against the Assad regime.
Minnesota Public Radio reported last week that as many as 15 men from the region had travelled to fight in Syria. One, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, reportedly told the station via Facebook messages that he was fighting alongside Isis.
“A Muslim has to stand up for [what’s] right,” Muhumed, 29, wrote in one Facebook post. “I give up this worldly life for Allah.”