The terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, alternately known as ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or just IS, the Islamic State) has captured a significant portion of prime-time news in the past few months, and with good reason.
There has been a steady drip of unsettling information coming out of the administration about ISIS capacities and members; especially its intentions toward the homeland. It's as if the White House is preparing us a little at a time, so as to inoculate itself should the worst come to pass.
For instance, as events unfolded, Western media began quoting government sources about the surprising number of Europeans and Americans fighting with Islamist groups in Syria, including ISIS. One American, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, killed himself as a suicide bomber on behalf of the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. At least two other Americans have died fighting for ISIS: Douglas McCain, native-born, and Abdirahmaan Muhumed, originally from Somalia. Both are from the Minneapolis area, which has contributed a steady stream of recruits to the al Shabaab terror group in Somalia. (Muhumed, it is reported, was also an employee of a Delta Airlines-owned subsidiary and worked at the Minneapolis airport prior to disappearing to travel abroad and join ISIS.)
Media reports describe the ease with which Westerners, native-born or naturalized, travel to the region — usually through Turkey and then across the porous and war-ravaged border into Syria. The reports (often citing senior officials on background) describe the difficulty of tracking and identifying these turncoats, and then express the worrisome notion that they will be well-poised to return and wreak havoc in their home countries.
When we consider that possibility, it's well to remember that harm might come to us not just from returning radicalized Americans. Citizens of Britain and several other European nations can travel to the United States without visa formalities under the Visa Waiver Program. For them, our country is a short transatlantic flight away.
Even women are alleged to be making the journey to join up, although given ISIS's fundamentalist views, they are limited to support roles.
This disturbing trend of Westerners joining ISIS was given shocking emphasis by the executioner of the two Americans, who has a British accent so distinctive that U.K. security officials have investigated and think they know who the murderer is.
In this country, we have learned that the FBI believes the technician creating the recruiting and execution videos ISIS has spread across the Internet — which are by all accounts a successful tool at rallying the radicalized, disturbed and disaffected — is a dual Syrian-American citizen from the Boston area by the name of Ahmad Abousamra.
As the informational drips continue, we have also learned that the most influential preacher at leading estranged Muslims to ISIS's doorstep is another American: Ahmad Musa Jibril. His sermons are insidious and insinuate all that Jibril is too clever to say aloud, perhaps because he recalls the fates of the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence on terrorism charges (although there may be moves afoot by the Obama administration to trade him for the release of "social activists" being held in Egypt), and Anwar al Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike.
All of this leaves one wondering whether the administration — while getting its act together in the wake of the president's "we have no strategy" faux pas, which is now morphing into "destroy and degrade" ISIS — has put any thought into how to protect Americans at home from returning extremists, rather than just waiting passively for events to go from bad to worse.
Some members of Congress are thinking about the matter. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has introduced a bill into the House of Representatives to prohibit U.S. nationals from attempting travel to countries such as Syria to join or support terrorist organizations engaged in armed conflict. They do so at the risk of criminal penalties and having their passports revoked. However, to be fully effective, this law (if enacted) will require close coordination between airlines and law enforcement to stop would-be recruits before they make contact with ISIS or any other group.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has announced plans to introduce a bill that would modernize and strengthen our antiquated, and grossly inadequate, rules for stripping the citizenship of individuals, native-born or naturalized, who fight on behalf of designated terrorist organizations, particularly those that harm Americans.
This step is long overdue. In a world of asymmetric warfare and rampant extremism, it is time to recognize the threat from those who would use the privilege of citizenship against us to commit terror. It is treason, a word we should not shy away from.
Now we need the third leg of the stool: an intelligently crafted rule that modifies the existing provisions of the visa waiver program to protect the homeland against European passport-holders who have had terrorist training and indoctrination, whether from ISIS or others.