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CIA: ISIS is branching out, heightening global threat

Militant fighters are trickling out of Syria to influence other regions

While its exact size is unclear, the group is thought to include thousands of fighters.
While its exact size is unclear, the group is thought to include thousands of fighters. (Al Hayat Media/CNN)

The Islamic State remains formidable and resistant, and insiders say the militant group is training operative’s for further possible attacks in the West. 

CIA Director John Brennan said the CIA is working together with the FBI to help identify potential lone-wolf attackers in the United States, but noting the CIA’s responsibility is to gather information about operations overseas. 

Brennan said, as it stands, the CIA has found no connection between the Orlando shooter and any foreign terrorist origination, adding the attack was a “heinous act of wanton violence” and an “assault on the values of openness and tolerance” that defines the United States as a nation.

ISIS groups are currently working on an apparatus to direct and inspire attacks such as the ones that took place in Paris and Brussels which the CIA believes were directed by ISIS leaders

Brennan said ISIS leaders are gradually branching out into an interconnected network which he describes as a “global challenge.” ISIS fighters are traveling to Libya in hopes of increasing influence in Africa; with plots to attack the region and Europe, he said.

Boko Haram is now the ISIS branch for West Africa, and has several thousand fighters in the region with their branch in Sinai being the “most active and capable terrorist group in all of Egypt” noting the Russian passenger jet that was shot down last October by the militant group.

"Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach," Brennan said. "The number of ISIL fighters now far exceeds what al-Qaida had at its height."

The number of fighters in Syria, however, has dropped from 33,000 fighters last year to 18,000 – 22,000 this year, and the group’s ability to raise money has diminished slightly. Other militant branches in Yemen and Afghanistan are also struggling to gain traction partly due to competition with the Taliban.

Regardless of the financial cuts, the terrorist group still continues to generate at least tens of millions of dollars a year, mostly through taxation from crude oil sales.

Senator Richard Burr, committee chairman, said there has been much discussion about the US-led coalition, and says the militant groups "global battlefield now includes the United States and we cannot stand idly by." Adding that now is not at time to pay lip service to threats.

"The sooner we as a nation realize that there is only one path for us to take at this juncture, the sooner we will destroy ISIL and ensure the continued safety of our nation."