Watch CBS News

Amid Garland, Gov't Probing Lone-Wolf Terror Threats

Follow CBSDFW.COM: Facebook | Twitter

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — The attempted attack on the "First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit" in Garland reflects a scenario that has long troubled national security officials: A do-it-yourself terror plot, inspired by the Islamic State extremist group and facilitated through the ease of social media.

Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said federal authorities are aware of "thousands" of potential extremists living in the U.S., only a small portion of whom are under active surveillance.

Terrorism experts say the spread of social media has facilitated a new wave of relatively small-scale plots that are potentially easy to carry out and harder for law enforcement to anticipate.

The online propaganda can be alluring, even to U.S. residents leading comfortable lives, said Peter Bergen, director of International Security Program at the public policy institute New America. In testimony Bergen planned to give Thursday before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, he says some of the Islamic State group recruits are motivated by the same level of idealism as young people who join the Marines or the Peace Corps.

In their view, Bergen asserts, the extremist group "is doing something that is of cosmic importance."

In his prepared testimony for the Senate committee, Bergen said relatives of potential Islamic state group recruits might be more willing to inform authorities if the family member faced options other than a long prison term. He suggested some sort of mix of a token prison term, followed by probation and counseling services.

U.S. officials say that more than 3,400 people from Western countries — including nearly 180 from the U.S. — have gone to Syria or Iraq, or attempted to do so, to fight on behalf of Islamic State or other extremists groups.

This phenomenon poses a challenge for investigators as they sift through countless online communications.

Although there is concern that fighters returning to the U.S. might pose a terrorism threat, some national security experts say a more immediate danger is posed by individuals in America who are inspired by these extremist groups yet have no direct ties to them. Long before this week, the lone wolf scenario manifested itself when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who had been inspired by a radical Yemen-based preacher, killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. Earlier this year, an Ohio man, Christopher Lee Cornell, was arrested and accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol in support of Islamic State militants.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.