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CIA director on ISIS: They aren't Muslims - they're "psychopathic thugs"

Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014.

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

Call them "psychopathic thugs" or "murderers," but don't call the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Muslims.

CIA Director John Brennan at an event Friday warned against ascribing "Islamic legitimacy" to the overseas terrorist group, saying that allowing them to identify themselves with Islam does a disservice to Muslims around the world.

"They are terrorists, they're criminals," Brennan asserted during the audience Q&A portion of an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Most--many--of them are psychopathic thugs, murderers who use a religious concept and masquerade and mask themselves in that religious construct."

"Let's make it very clear that the people who carry out acts of terrorism - whether it be al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - are doing it because they believe it is consistent with what their view of Islam is," the intelligence agency director continued. "It is totally inconsistent with what the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world."

Brennan, who gave a speech earlier at the event on the structural changes facing the CIA, also slammed a popular conservative talking point about the White House's reluctance to describe ISIS as Islamists.

"Quite frankly, I'm amused about the debate that goes on about, you know, unless you call it by what it is, you don't know what you're fighting," Brennan said. "I think we have to be very careful also in the characterization because the words that we use can have resonance."

President Obama has spoken extensively about the administration's decision to deny ISIS a religious name.

"The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie," the president said last month at a White House summit on countering terrorism. "And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it."

Like the president, Brennan cautioned against the unilateral lumping of terrorists with a religion that has over a billion followers worldwide.