The Cable

Islamic State Threat Comes to American Shores

The Islamic State threat arrives on American shores with the arrest of three suspects.

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U.S. law enforcement authorities nabbed three terrorism suspects Wednesday for conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for the Islamic State and conduct attacks here at home, including a potential attempt on President Barack Obama’s life and a hoped-for bomb attack at New York’s Coney Island.

The arrests are likely to raise concerns about the Islamic State’s presence on American shores. No one claiming allegiance to the group has yet to strike in the United States but the militants running a self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq have inspired attacks in Canada, Denmark, France, and Australia. In the last year, U.S. law enforcement personnel have arrested more than 20 people for trying to travel to the Middle East to fight for the Islamic State or other terrorist groups.

One suspect, Akhror Saidakhmetov, was arrested at New York’s Kennedy Airport while trying to board a plane to Istanbul. A second suspect, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, traveled to Turkey last month and was picked up in Brooklyn. Abror Habibov was arrested up in Florida and stands accused of funding Saidakhmetov’s attempts to travel to the Middle East. Each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

“The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies,” United States Attorney Loretta Lynch, who is also Obama’s nominee as attorney general, said in a statement announcing the arrests. “As alleged in the complaint, two of the defendants in this case sought to travel to Syria to join [the Islamic State] but were also prepared to wage violent jihad here in the United States.”

Their arrests serve as a reminder of the international reach of the group. Saidakhmetov lives in Brooklyn but is a citizen of Kazakhstan. Juraboev and Habibov are from Uzbekistan.

The arrests come as retired Marine Gen. John Allen, Obama’s special envoy for the global coalition to fight the Islamic State, told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday that he was unable to give a firm estimate on how long possible U.S. ground operations to defeat the group could last.

Lawmakers are debating the president’s new authorization to use military force, which leaves open the possibility of the president sending ground forces to fight the group, something Obama and his advisors have repeatedly said was not under consideration.

The point of contention between Democratic lawmakers and Allen was what constitutes an “enduring” ground operation, which the war authorization allows. Republicans believe the phrase is too limiting, while Democrats believe it is too broad.

When pressed by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey to define how long such an operation could last, Allen said, “Enduring might be two weeks, it might be two years.”

This answer did not go over well with the committees’ Democrats.

“We’re not very uncomfortable with this language,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said, speaking on behalf of other Democrats on the panel.

Committee chairman Senator Bob Corker (Tenn.) said he would be inclined to support the president sees the fight against the Islamic State through.

“All of us need to have confidence that the administration is truly committed to achieving the stated goals they have laid out,” Corker said.

Photo Credit: Spencer Platt

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