National Security

Girding for counterattack, administration tightens terrorist watch

The White House in Washington, D.C.
The White House in Washington, D.C. McClatchy

Hours after U.S. forces unleashed a barrage of bombs over territory held by the Islamic State and al Qaida-linked rebels in Syria, the Obama administration sought Wednesday to reassure Americans that it’s doing all possible to protect against retaliatory strikes by terrorists in this country.

The State Department announced that ten individuals and two groups with ties to the Islamic State had been branded Specially Designated Global Terrorists under a presidential executive order that imposes sanctions and penalties on those known to have supported terrorism. The order freezes their assets in federally regulated institutions and prohibits Americans from engaging in any transaction to their benefit.

Simultaneously, Interpol Washington, the U.S. arm of the international police organization, and several U.S. agencies announced formation of a dedicated program to monitor the international movements of suspected foreign terrorists traveling to Iraq and Syria and believed to have cooperated with radical rebels in Syria.

Demonstrating the broad array of radical Muslims rallying to the Islamic State’s occupation of wide swaths of Syria and Iraq, the two newly designated groups are Chechen- and Moroccan-led, both based in Syria.

The Chechen group, known as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, consists mainly of fighters who have cooperated with other violent extremist organizations in Syria, including the al-Nusrah Front and the Islamic State, the State Department said.

The Moroccan group, Harakat Sham al-Islam, is has carried out terrorist attacks and joined in kidnapping civilians with other extremist organizations in Syria, including the al-Nusrah Front, it said.

The Justice Department touted the Interpol program as a way to leverage the organization’s unique resources, including a secure, encrypted communications system, criminal and analytical databases and a color-coded system for tagging advisories about terror suspects. Red notices are used to target and apprehend terrorists, blue notices for tracing and locating them and green to publish information about hundreds of foreign nationalists previously identified in Iraq and Afghanistan in connection with terrorist activities.

Attorney General Eric Holder said that Interpol offers “cutting-edge resources, a structure for international cooperation, and strategic tools like Red, Blue and Green Notices for tracing, targeting and apprehending terror suspects.”

The Interpol program already serves a working group involving 10 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

They share a database, including criminal intelligence information detailing identity particulars that can be especially valuable to law enforcement and border control agents who must weigh whether a traveler poses a terrorism threat, the Justice Department said.