SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) FBI Director James Comey said that potential homegrown terror threats were a major focus for the agency, expressing worry that individuals in the U.S. could receive all the terrorist training they needed online.
Mr. Comey, in a wide-ranging discussion with reporters at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s headquarters in Washington, also said the agency believed it had identified the Islamist militant who appeared in videos claiming to show the beheading of two American journalists and a British aid worker, but he didn’t disclose the killer’s name.
He said militants with groups in Iraq and Syria harbor a desire to attack the U.S., despite airstrikes this week intended to disrupt what officials saw as an imminent plot directed at Western airlines.
But he and other officials said they had no evidence backing a statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday that Islamic State militants captured in Iraq this week were plotting to carry out attacks on transit systems in the U.S. and France.
“There was a plot to do disruptions in Paris and the U.S.,” Mr. Abadi told a gathering of journalists at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. He said he believed most of those detained came from outside Iraq.
U.S. officials said they couldn’t verify the plot.
“We have not confirmed such a plot, and would have to review any information from our Iraqi partners before making further determinations,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council. “We take any threat seriously and always work to corroborate information we receive from our partners.”
France’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
Iraq’s prime minister said he received word overnight from Baghdad that its security forces disrupted a terrorist cell and that his government believed the plot was credible. Mr. Abadi said his government was sharing the information with U.S. intelligence services.
A law-enforcement official in New York said, “We have nothing that specifically lends credibility” to Mr. Abadi’s comments.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton rode a subway line for several stops in Manhattan on Thursday afternoon and then held a news conference. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Tom Prendergast, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subways, rode for several stops on another Manhattan subway line.
The FBI said it was aware of Mr. Abadi’s statements. The bureau was assessing “the validity of this threat,” said George Venizelos, assistant director-in-charge at the New York field office.
Mr. Comey the FBI director, said he was concerned that Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and events in Syria and Iraq would motivate and radicalize people in the U.S. Domestic extremists could receive terrorist training online without going overseas, he said.
“The explosion of the material available on the Internet is a world that was not known to us 8 to 10 years ago,” he said.
“We have made it so hard for people to get into this country, bad guys, but they can enter as a photon and radicalize somebody in Wichita, Kansas,” Mr. Comey said. He said it was important to build relationships with potentially affected communities and work with local law-enforcement partners to identify threats.
Addressing threats from abroad, Mr. Comey said he believed ISIS didn’t have the capability to carry out a sophisticated attack in the U.S., but he said there was no doubt the group would like to mount an attack if it could.
“If they aspire to be the leader of the global jihad, you don’t get there without striking America,” he said.