“I’m very concerned about the going,” Comey testified at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing. “I’m even more concerned about the coming.
“There will be a terrorist diaspora out of those areas – especially Syria – that we all wake up every day thinking and worrying about,” Comey said.
In his prepared remarks, Comey said that those foreign fighters include individuals with U.S. passports.
“The continuing violence in both Syria and Iraq and the influx of foreign fighters threatens to further destabilize an already volatile region while also heightening the threat to the West,” Comey said. “Due to the prolonged nature and the high visibility of the Syrian conflict, we are concerned that U.S. persons with an interest in committing violent extremist acts will continue to be drawn to the region.
“Foreign fighters traveling to Syria or Iraq could, for example, gain battlefield experience and increased exposure to violent extremist elements that may lead to further radicalization to violence; they may use these skills and exposure to radical ideology to return to their countries of origin, including the United States, to conduct attacks on the Homeland,” Comey said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who also testified at the hearing, also acknowledged the threat of foreign fighters. In his prepared remarks, he said DHS, along with the FBI and the National Center for Counterterrorism, are “making enhanced and concerted efforts to track Syrian foreign fighters who come from or seek to enter this country.”
“We are concerned that not only may these foreign fighters join ISIL or other violent extremist groups in Syria, they may also be recruited by these violent extremist groups to leave Syria and conduct external attacks,” Johnson said.
“The FBI has arrested a number of individuals who have tried to travel from the U.S. to Syria to support terrorist activities there,” he added.
More than 15,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria over the past three years, including approximately 2,000 Westerners, Johnson said, adding that more than 100 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria “to join the fight there in one way or another.”