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Can Islamic State Militants Attack the US?

Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

From VOA Learning English, this is In The News.

The United States is seeking to build an international alliance to stop the threat from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The State Department announced this week that U.S. officials are working to put together a coalition of countries from Europe, the Arab world and other areas. The Department’s Jen Psaki says these nations could work jointly against the militants in a number of ways.

“There’s humanitarian, military, intelligence, diplomatic, and we know this is an effort that is going to require a significant focus and ‘all hands on deck’ – not just the United States, but a range of countries.”

The United States has begun flying military aircraft over Syria to watch Islamic State fighters. The Sunni Muslim extremists executed American reporter James Foley earlier this month.

Since then, there have been mixed messages coming out of Washington about whether Islamic State militants could attack the United States. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called the group, an “imminent threat.” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham warned that the militants are willing and able to “hit the homeland.” But are these threats overstated?

At least one terrorism expert has noted stronger ties between the Islamic State and the group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Max Abrahms teaches at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. He says al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula may be smaller than the Islamic State, but he thinks it is better at making bombs. He says the concern is that the IS militants may be influenced by the al-Qaida group and then strike Western countries.

But other experts believe it is too soon to talk about threats to the U.S. “homeland.” Daniel Benjamin formerly served as the State Department’s anti-terrorism coordinator during the presidency of Bill Clinton.

“At this point, this group is overwhelmingly an insurgent group focused on holding territory in Iraq, in killing Shi’a and in stoking the sectarian conflict in that region.”

Daniel Benjamin says the Islamic State has no experience with what he calls “out-of-the-area attacks.” He adds that such attacks are much more difficult to carry out than most people realize.

“It takes a great deal of training and practice and expertise. It takes people who understand how to deal with masking their identities, with exercising a great deal of communications security and other aspects of operational security.”

He also says the United States has time to develop a long-term plan for containing and limiting the ability of Islamic State fighters.

The U.S. military has helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain territory captured by the fighters. The military also has increased airstrikes against the IS forces in Iraq.

For days, U.S. officials have talked about expanding the airstrikes to Syria. It appears, however, that such action may be delayed. On Thursday, President Barack Obama told reporters that he is still developing a plan to deal with the militants.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said it welcomes U.S. help with the Islamic State. But Syria has warned that bombing IS targets without its permission would represent an “act of aggression.”

The Obama administration rejected the idea that it is cooperating with the Assad government. Syrian rebels have been fighting government forces for more than three years. The United Nations says more than 191,000 people have been killed since the conflict began.

And that’s In The News from VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter.

This story was based on reports from VOA’s Victor Beattie, Cecily Hilleary and Luis Ramirez. It was written for Learning English by George Grow, and edited by Jeri Watson.


Words in the News

coalition – n. forces, groups or nations joined together

executed – v. killed

government – n. the organization of people that rules a country, city or area

strike – v. to hit with force

understand – v. to have knowledge of; to know what is meant

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