Even as the Pentagon touted financial damage done to the Islamic State by airstrikes on its cash reserves yesterday, and news emerged the group may have seized radioactive material in Iraq, experts say the terrorist group’s greatest threat to the United States remains homegrown lone wolves — unaffected by either development.
Reuters reported yesterday that Iraqi officials are searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material missing from a facility in Basra. While the news agency reported there is no evidence it has fallen into terrorists’ hands, officials are concerned about the potential for a so-called dirty bomb.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman said a series of U.S. airstrikes in recent months have destroyed “hundreds of millions” of dollars in Islamic State cash as part of a broader campaign aimed at squeezing the extremist group’s financial power, including attacks on oil facilities. Col. Steve Warren said the strikes have forced the Islamic State to drastically reduce salaries for its fighters.
But domestic terrorists inspired by the Islamic State are unlikely to be affected by the group’s money woes — nor are they likely to be armed with a dirty bomb of Iraqi origin, experts say.
“The most dangerous threat from ISIS right now is something like the San Bernardino situation, where people go online and become self-radicalized,” said Robert Art, the Herter Professor of International Relations at Brandeis University. “All the intelligence agencies will tell you it’s much more difficult to deal with the lone wolf, rather than the people who travel to Syria and then come back.”
He said no matter how much damage U.S. war planes inflict on ISIS treasure, the group’s propaganda machine likely continues to inspire recruits prepared to work for free.
“The people who truly believe are not in it for the money,” Art said.
Fred Burton, vice president of Intelligence at Stratfor, a global intelligence firm, said that if in fact the Islamic State has seized dirty-bomb material, an attack would pose a greater threat of causing panic than actual radioactive poisoning.
“The problem that you’re going to run into in the age of Twitter and social media is the minute you have a (bomb) that has some radioactivity to it, you’re going to have a lot of chaos and panic,” Burton said.
Jim Walsh, a security studies researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said if ISIS has this material, and if they have the capability of weaponizing it, they will likely use it against their enemies in the Middle East, rather than risk losing it on a long trip to American soil.
“This is something you’re going to see used in Iraq or Syria,” he said. “If you transport it to the U.S. your chances of getting caught shoot up.”
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