Spy chief: No threat from Americans who aided militants in Syria

Spy chief: No threat from Americans who aided militants in Syria
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The few dozen Americans who have gone to join militant groups fighting in Syria and then come back home don’t pose a threat to the U.S., according to the nation’s top intelligence official.

About “40 or so” Americans have left to fight with the groups and then come home, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Monday.

While the U.S. is concerned about people leaving to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), none of those who have returned have shown “nefarious” intentions, he claimed.

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“We’ve since found they went for humanitarian purposes or some other reasons that don’t relate to plotting,” Clapper said. “In fact at this point, we’re not aware of any of these people who have returned who are engaged in plotting” an attack.

“If they come back and they are not involved in plotting — don’t have a nefarious purpose — then that’s their right and privilege as an American citizen to come back,” he added.

The flood of foreign fighters into the broader Middle East to join ISIS and other extremist groups has frustrated government leaders and stoked fears about terrorists training abroad and then coming back to do damage at home.

In all, about 180 Americans have fled or attempted to leave to join the fighting in Syria, Clapper has said, but it's unclear how many of them joined ISIS. That’s just a fraction of the estimated 3,400 fighters from Western countries. 

The phenomenon "gives rise somewhat to the most frequent threat that we here worry about," Clapper said, which is "the homegrown violent extremist." 

Last week, three men from New York were arrested for attempting to provide support to ISIS. One man, Akhror Saidakhmetov, was picked up as he attempted to board a plane in New York.

“The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies,” Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and President Obama’s nominee to be the next attorney general, said in a statement at the time.