Foreign fighters in Syria present a significant danger to New York City and the United States for future terrorist attacks, Police Commissioner William Bratton said Monday.
In a discussion with reporters about his first five months as commissioner, Bratton said the Syrian civil war has become a hotbed where fighters are learning combat and terrorism skills.
"We estimate there are a significant number of Americans over there and when they come back, they are going to come back with skills that they didn't have when they went over there, they will be even more radicalized than [when] they went over," Bratton noted.
While the traditional al-Qaida movement has been substantially weakened since Sept. 11, 2001, the organization is able to inspire and radicalize others to serve as its proxy in attacks upon the United States, Bratton said. He noted that the NYPD has been particularly concerned about lone-wolf operators like Jose Pimentel, who pleaded guilty this year to plotting bomb attacks in the city.
"The issue with Syria is a real live war, with people traveling thousands of miles from all over the world to fight," Bratton said. "There are now more [foreign] fighters in Syria than were in Afghanistan."
Bratton said the NYPD's foreign liaison program, in which officers are posted overseas to gather intelligence, is an important bulwark against terror attacks.
"The liaison program will stay very active," said Bratton, who has assigned Deputy Commissioner John Miller to evaluate it. "As to whether we keep it in all the same locations or maybe expand it to other locations is the process he is engaged in right now."
Speaking about the overall condition of the NYPD, Bratton said it is important to address the concerns of cops at a time when they face new scrutiny by an inspector general and a court monitor to deal with issues related to the controversial stop and frisk program.
"The happier the cops are, or the more confident they feel, it is going to be crucial to keeping this city safe going forward; to stay active in the streets, to feel they have the backing of the department," Bratton said. "The challenge is going to be encouraging them [police] to get back out on the streets, being assertive . . . without assertive policing, you can't keep the city safe."