SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The danger of foreign fighters and self-radicalized individuals who support Islamic State (IS) mounting attacks in their home countries is growing even as the fight against the militants makes progress, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
“I do believe it’s an increasing issue,” Retired General John Allen, the U.S. special envoy for building a coalition against Islamic State, told reporters in Singapore, when asked about the risk of individuals and groups hitching themselves to IS and carrying out attacks in their home countries.
“The foreign fighters are a reality that all of us are going to deal with in the future.”
Australia said earlier on Wednesday it had thwarted an imminent attack linked to IS, barely two months after a self-styled sheik aligning himself with the IS held hostages in a Sydney cafe for 17 hours.
“ISIL has been clear that they intend, in fact, to attack in host nations. That’s not a surprise to anyone. The question isn’t whether they are going to attack. The question is what can be done to defend the homelands,” Allen said.
Victories on the battlefield against the IS would diminish the group’s appeal to potential recruits, and there have been increasing reports of foreign fighters becoming disillusioned, Allen said.
Community outreach programs at home could also help prevent young men and women from falling under its spell, he added.
Hundreds of people from countries in Southeast Asia have gone to fight with the IS in Syria and Iraq.
Understanding the nature of the flow of foreign fighters in and from the region, and cooperation from law enforcement and security services would help defend against the threat, he said.
The United States has led a group of countries in an air war on IS, which controls large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The White House will ask Congress by Wednesday for new authority to use force against IS fighters, congressional aides said on Monday, paving the way for lawmakers’ first vote on the scope of a campaign that is already six months old.
Allen stopped off in Singapore on his way from Malaysia to Australia. He said he did not intend to ask Australia to commit ground troops in the fight against IS.
Australia last year committed aircraft and special forces to assist in the battle against IS in Iraq.
Editing by Robert Birsel