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London Attack Highlights ISIS Threat in Europe: US Commander

  • In this March 22, 2017, file photo, attacker Khalid Masood is treated by emergency services outside the Houses of Parliament in London. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP, File).
    In this March 22, 2017, file photo, attacker Khalid Masood is treated by emergency services outside the Houses of Parliament in London. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP, File).
  • This undated photo provided by Clint Payne shows his sister, Melissa, and her husband, Kurt Cochran. Kurt was killed and Melissa injured in the March 22, 2017, attack in London. (Courtesy of Clint Payne via AP)
    This undated photo provided by Clint Payne shows his sister, Melissa, and her husband, Kurt Cochran. Kurt was killed and Melissa injured in the March 22, 2017, attack in London. (Courtesy of Clint Payne via AP)

The latest attack in London underlines the growing threat in Europe from individuals inspired or directed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, NATO's commander said Thursday.

"It underscores again the dynamic environment in Europe," Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said of the attack that began on Westminster Bridge near Parliament. "Europe is challenged by both the flow of terrorists returning to Europe from Syria and other places" and "they're challenged by an internal threat of those inspired by ISIS or directed by ISIS."

The self-indoctrinated terrorist was one "of a number of threat streams that we have of this type within Europe," said Scaparrotti, who doubles as NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command. The overall ISIS terror threat is "probably higher in Europe than any other part of the globe with the exception of the places that we're physically fighting them, like Syria and Afghanistan and Iraq."

Scaparrotti said he is particularly concerned by the criminal gangs that help smuggle refugees into Europe. The gangs also "are more than willing to move equipment, personnel, weapons and people" to abet ISIS plots.

Scaparrotti spoke at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing a day after British-born, 52-year-old Khalid Masood is accused of driving a vehicle into crowds on Westminster Bridge, killing two people, and then stabbing a police officer to death on the grounds of Parliament. At least 40 people were injured in the attack, British authorities said. Masood was reportedly shot to death by security officers.

One of those killed on the bridge was tentatively identified as U.S. citizen Kurt Cochran of Utah.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and called Masood a "soldier" in its ranks, but the claim could not immediately be verified. In raids around Britain, at least eight people have been taken into custody on suspicion of possible involvement in the attack.

Before reports of the London attack circulated Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson presided at a meeting of 68 nations in the anti-ISIS coalition to press for closer coordination in defeating ISIS in the Mideast and reducing the spread of the terror threat.

"I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating ISIS is the United States' number one goal in the region," he said. "As we've said before, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We must continue to keep our focus on the most urgent matter at hand."

Tillerson also cautioned against a spillover of the ISIS threat to other areas once the group is defeated in the Mideast.

"As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS' phony physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere," he said. "A digital caliphate must not flourish in the place of a physical one."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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