NATO: ISIS Fighters Pose 'Lone Wolf' Threat to Europe

In this file photo taken Monday, June 23, 2014, militants from the Islamic State parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle on a main street in Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo, File)
In this file photo taken Monday, June 23, 2014, militants from the Islamic State parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle on a main street in Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo, File)

NATO's commander said Monday that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses a threat to the alliance and Europe along with the Mideast.

"ISIS is a dual problem to us," Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said. "First of all, it's a problem along our allies' border in Turkey. Second of all, it is a problem because the foreign fighters generated there come back to Europe."

At a Pentagon news conference, Breedlove, the commander of NATO and the U.S. European Command, pointed to the case of alleged ISIS fighter Mehdi Nemmouche.

Last May, Nemmouche, a French citizen, allegedly made his way back to Europe from the Syrian battlefield, walked into a Jewish museum in Belgium, and killed four people.

"This opened everybody's eyes" in NATO to the threat of the "lone wolf" terrorist traveling on the passports of alliance member states, Breedlove said.

"The ability to generate lone wolf concerns has been on our radar for some time, because these are the hardest to get after, the hardest to find," Breedlove said. "We are able to use networks, to attack networks, but lone wolves don't plug into networks and so it's a tougher problem."

Breedlove said that radicalized young Muslims in Europe had been flocking to the ISIS banner in Iraq and Syria, but he could not say whether the recruiting had increased since the U.S. began bombing in Syria in September.

"The issue of recruiting is a real problem," Breedlove said. "I think that I sign up to a broad series of works and thought which says when we get moderate Muslim voices coming from the mosques that speak out against these atrocities that we see in ISIS and others, that will help us with recruiting."

"It's hard to address recruiting until we begin to address those hearts and minds, and I believe that that starts with those good, moderate voices of Muslims across not only Europe, but the United States and other parts of the world," Breedlove said.

Breedlove said that the threat also comes from other terrorist groups in addition to ISIS.

"Clearly, there are other elements of Al Qaida and other threats that are looking for those ways to thwart western defenses. And, yes, they are still a threat," he said.

The U.S. has been seeking to counter the ISIS threat in Syria by recruiting and training up to 5,000 fighters annually from so-called "moderate elements" in the opposition Free Syrian Army and other groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. efforts appeared to suffer a major setback over the weekend when an Al Qaida-affiliated group in Syria, known as Jabhat al-Nusra or the Nusra Front, reportedly overran strongholds of the Free Syrian Army in northeastern Syria.

The Pentagon and the White House sought to downplay concerns that the setbacks would alter U.S. strategy in the region.

"There are battles all the time between these various groups, and territory trades hands in these local areas regularly," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the plan to recruit and train a moderate Syrian force was a long-term strategy and "not a short-term proposition."

"This is going to require a sustained effort and a sustained commitment."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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