Islamic State extremists fighting in Iraq and Syria pose an “immediate” threat to Europe as a significant number carried European passports, top US intelligence officials said Friday.
The danger presented by jihadists potentially returning to the West to carry out attacks has prompted more cooperation between US and European intelligence agencies in a bid to track terror suspects, the officials said.
Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, suggested IS militants presented a more serious danger for European states than for America, given the number of recruits from EU countries.
“The threat is quite immediate for Europe,” Olsen told reporters.
“They see it really as right on their doorstep.”
In remarks on Wednesday, Olsen said the IS extremists that have seized territory in Iraq and Syria do not pose an imminent threat to the United States, but would eventually try to attack America if left unchecked.
Olsen’s deputy, Nicholas Rasmussen, told the same briefing Friday that information sharing about terror suspects between Washington and its European partners has dramatically improved since the IS threat emerged in recent months.
US requests for information that would have met with some delays or resistance more than a year ago are now quickly acted on, Rasmussen said.
“We are pushing on an open door as opposed to cajoling and begging for information,” Rasmussen said.
European governments are “much more willing to share that kind of information,” he said.
The intelligence officials also said the US government was keenly aware of sophisticated IS propaganda efforts and indicated more could be done to counter the jihadists’ media “messaging.”
The US government has used different acronyms and names for the group, including ISIL or ISIS, but Olsen said he did not expect Washington to refer to the extremists as the “Islamic State,” as it could play into their propaganda.
“I don’t think we will call them ‘Islamic State.’ It gives them a degree of credibility” that they do not deserve, he said.