US military eyes 'extremist Islamic movement' in Latin America

US military eyes 'extremist Islamic movement' in Latin America
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The top U.S. military commander in Latin America said he and his regional counterparts are growing more concerned about radical Islamic extremists using the region as a pathway into the U.S. 

"Radicalization is occurring," said Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, at a roundtable with reporters on Wednesday. 

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"We just have to recognize that this theater is a very attractive target and is an attractive pathway that we have to pay attention to," he said. 

Tidd, who became Southcom commander in January, said the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has attracted between 100 and 150 recruits from Latin America, and a "small number" have attempted to return to the region. 

"Or — and the one that I find much more worrisome — if they can't get there, they've been told to engage in lone-wolf attacks where they're located," he said. "Those are the ones that have most of our regional security partners concerned because they're so difficult to detect.  

"It's the extremist Islamist movement, and that very corrosive engagement that you're seeing on the internet that they've demonstrated an effectiveness in," he added. 

He also said there is some movement of migrants from the Middle East to Latin America. 

"I think we are beginning to see people coming into this hemisphere who have very, very questionable backgrounds, and our law enforcement agencies are paying close attention to that," he added. 

Tidd said leaders acknowledged at a regional security conference in January that Islamic radicalization is a problem. 

"All of the countries recognize that this is something that — in the past they would say, 'This is not a problem in my country,' " he said. 

He said terrorists are attracted to illicit smuggling networks in Latin America.

But, he said, the U.S. and its partners should focus on the networks rather than exactly what they are smuggling, such as animals, drugs, weapons and people. 

"It's the ability that these networks have to pretty much be able to move anything that I think should give us all concern," he said.  

"If we focus on the networks we may have a better chance of catching things moving through," he said.