The dangerous influx of thousands of foreign fighters to the Mideast, especially Syria, will be the main focus of a special UN Security Council summit chaired later this month by President Barack Obama, a top administration official said Wednesday.
Addressing the Council of Foreign Relations in Manhattan, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said intelligence agencies believe that more than 12,000 foreign fighters have gone to Syria in the past three years to take sides in the civil war there. About 1,000 of them are Europeans while more than 100 are believed to be Americans, Johnson said.
"We are concerned that not only maybe these foreign fighters join the fight but that they may be recruited by these extremist groups and conduct external attacks," Johnson said.
Obama's chairing of the meeting, set for Sept. 25 in Manhattan, is believed to be only the second time in history that a sitting U.S. president has presided over a council summit, Johnson said.
Much of Johnson's 20-minute address to the council dealt with the threat of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL and ISIS, which he said is trying to be the "pre-eminent terrorist organization on the world stage." The group has some 10,000 fighters and income of $1 million a day from illicit oil sales and smuggling, Johnson said.
"At present, we have no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland of the United States but that is not, by any means, the end of the story," Johnson said. "ISIL is an extremely dangerous organization."
Johnson also derided the notion that ISIL was defending Islam or defending innocent Muslims by noting that most of the people it has killed have been Muslims.
"ISIL is [made of] depraved criminals, kidnappers and terrorists who control territory. There is no religion, including Islam, and no God, including Allah, who would condone ISIL's violent tactics," he said.
In the coming week, Johnson said his agency will be putting out advisories to private industry on a long list of substances that can be "explosive precursors" that could be used to build bombs, and tips on suspicious activity of purchasers of such items. A similar program has been used by the NYPD for several years.