The deaths of as many as two U.S. citizens in Syria fighting alongside the group known as the Islamic State are raising fears about the number of Americans drawn to the jihadist cause and the possibility of an Islamic State attack in the United States.
A jihadist video posted on the Internet claims to show U.S. citizen Moner Mohammad abu-Salha, part of the propaganda machine intended to draw more Americans to the fight.
"I have one word to say to you kafir [infidel] - we are coming for you,” he said.
Unlike the U.S. citizens who fought with the Islamic State and recently died in Syria, abu-Salha fought with the rival jihadist group al-Nusra Front.
“He was actually able to return to the United States after having been in Syria, and [return there], where he died as a suicide bomber, which indicates that he evaded intelligence," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who is with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Overall, the United States has done a good job making sure such so-called foreign fighters do not return home to unleash terror attacks, but that one radicalized American was able to slip through the cracks illustrates the dangers, he said.
Of all the jihadist groups, the Islamic State is the most likely to be plotting such attacks, according to officials and analysts.
The RAND Corporation’s Jonah Blank says the death in battle of American Douglas McArthur McCain shows the group may not be focused on grooming its Western recruits for terror attacks in their home countries.
“If that were its main goal, it wouldn’t let him get anywhere near a bullet,” he said.
The way the Islamic State touts its exploits on social media could help undercut any plots to export terror.
“It presents the FBI, Homeland Security and other security organizations with a valuable way to keep tabs on these individuals,” Blank said.
Either way, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the United States “is not turning a blind eye” to the Islamic State’s aspirations.
“We are taking not just a regional approach but even a global approach to how we’re trying to look at what they’re trying to do,” he said.
Officials said as many as 100 Americans are thought to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to cast their lot with groups like the Islamic State. Add in Europeans and the number grows to 1,000 or more.