WASHINGTON — President Obama acknowledged Sunday that extremists fighting in Syria and Iraq pose a direct threat to the United States because many have Western passports that enable them to easily enter the country without visas.
“I think we have been under serious threat my entire presidency, and we have been under serious threat predating 9/11 from those who embrace this ideology,” Obama said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“We have to improve our surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence there. Special forces are going to have a role. And there are going to be times where we take strikes against organizations that could do us harm,” Obama said.
Fighters aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have overrun the military in parts of Iraq, threatening the capital of Baghdad in recent weeks and prompting the White House to dispatch 300 military advisers to help stabilize the region.
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“They’re gaining strength in some places,” Obama said. “We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back. They’ve got European passports. They don’t need a visa to get into the United States.”
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said that as many as 100 Americans and “thousands” of European passport holders have joined the fight in Syria. In response, the United States is working to increase security at overseas airports.
“Any of these people can come back to the United States and they can carry out the type of attack that they’re being trained in Syria,” King said on the same show. “All we have to do is risk one or two of them and we could have a very, very lethal attack here in the U.S.”