By Kristina Wong - 08/25/14 03:50 PM EDT
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee warned Monday that the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS, also referred to as ISIL] is already a "great threat" to the United States.
"ISIL has capitalized on regional instability and continues to recruit foreign fighters, including Americans and Europeans who have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIL. This poses a great threat to the U.S," said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the committee's ranking member, in a statement.
On Monday, the president's top military adviser, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said ISIS was more a regional threat than a direct threat to the U.S., though his spokesman said later that the threat could change.
The Pentagon press secretary echoed that statement.
"They do pose a regional threat. And to the degree that they are supported by foreign fighters from nations all over the world, including the United States, there is an immediacy to the threat that they pose," press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said on Fox News on Monday.
"While I think the general feeling is they're not capable of a 9/11 like-style attack on the homeland right now, they certainly could through the use of foreign fighters impact Western targets, including American targets, if they so choose," he said.
State press secretary Jennifer Psaki later added: "I know there have been comments made about 9/11-style attacks. To date, we've not seen them focus on that kind of planning."
"That doesn't mean we're not going to be very mindful that they could quickly aim to pivot to attacks against Western targets outside of the region. And that's certainly something that we're monitoring very, very closely," she said.
But Ruppersberger called ISIS "a vicious, dangerous, and formidable terrorist group."
"Although it has proven its brutality by committing atrocities, ISIL has also shown great capabilities in strategic planning, building advantageous alliances, and disseminating persuasive propaganda," he said.
Ruppersberger did not issue any recommendations, but endorsed U.S. actions so far and called on Iraqi leaders to form a new, inclusive government quickly.
"I am encouraged by the brave actions of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which are fighting back against ISIL. Additionally, we see Syrian opposition groups fighting both the Assad regime as well as taking up arms against ISIL," he said.
"The House Intelligence Committee continues to receive daily updates on this situation in Iraq and Syria. I appreciate the Administration’s consultation with Congress prior to starting the airstrikes. I look forward to working with the Administration as we continue to address this serious threat," he said.