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ISIS among us? FBI chief says group is in most states

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FBI Director James Comey has said that as many as 900 investigations are under way into suspected terrorist-related plots.

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NEW YORK — When a Brooklyn man pleaded guilty to plotting to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syira and to bomb Coney Island, it drew little attention outside of New York City.

It was, after all, one of hundreds of such plots that the FBI said it had been tracking since long before Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which were a stark reminder of ISIS’ global reach.

Nowhere was that reminder as chilling as in the United States, where neither al-Qaeda nor ISIS has pulled off a major strike since Sept. 11, 2001. Despite the track record, FBI Director James Comey has warned that ISIS, an organization that was added to the agency’s list of foreign terrorist groups only last year, is now in virtually every state.

“This is sort of the new normal,” Mr. Comey said in July after announcing the arrests of 10 people believed linked to ISIS plots.

The foiling of alleged plots linked to foreign terrorist groups made big news on the heels of 9/​11, but the cases rarely get much notice anymore unless they follow events such as the Paris violence. 

Last August in Alexandria, Va., a 17-year-old was sentenced to 11 years in prison and a lifetime of monitoring of his Internet activities after pleading guilty to conspiring to support ISIS.

Also in August, the Brooklyn man, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, entered his guilty plea, admitting he hoped to go to Syria and join ISIS. If he remained in the United States, Juraboev, an Uzbek-born U.S. resident, said he planned to either kill President Obama or bomb Coney Island.

The cases were among at least 15 cited by the FBI that month in which defendants were arrested, copped pleas, or sentenced. They included cases in California, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Kansas, as well as New York and Washington, D.C., and most involved ISIS.

In the two weeks before the Paris attacks, the FBI announced arrests or guilty pleas in five cases involving ISIS or al-Qaeda. On Thursday, Mr. Comey said no “credible” threats had been substantiated in the United States since the Paris violence.

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton says that more than 20 terrorist plots have been foiled in the city since the 2001 attacks and that the city is the nation’s No. 1 terrorism target.

An ISIS video released late Wednesday and featuring footage of New York City landmarks underscored that point. 

There are 59 organizations on the FBI’s list of foreign terrorist groups. ISIS, which was added in April, 2014, and al-Qaeda and its offshoots are considered the most capable of carrying out major attacks, but investigations continue into other groups. They include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamist group based in the Philippines.

Mr. Comey has said that as many as 900 investigations are under way into suspected terrorist-related plots, and officials say the majority involve ISIS.

Skeptics say no matter what the number of investigations or reported plot foilings, domestic anxiety since the Paris attacks is misplaced, and they point to ISIS’ failure to launch an attack on U.S. soil.

“There is no evidence they are gaining any traction in America’s Muslim community,” said terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins, senior adviser to the president of Rand Corp., a think-tank based in Santa Monica, and director of the National Transportation Security Center at the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, Calif.

Mr. Jenkins, who advised the Clinton White House on security issues, said the domestic terrorism threat today is small compared with what it was in the 1970s, when the FBI was faced with homegrown, militant leftist groups that staged bombings, bank heists, hijackings, and kidnappings.

Nowadays, Mr. Jenkins says, U.S.-based ISIS sympathizers tend to be troubled loners who try, and fail, to orchestrate attacks before being caught.

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