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FBI Chief: U.S. Safer After 9/11 But Al-Qaida Offshoots Pose Threats (Video)

Reported by Katie Schoolov

FBI Director James Comey visited San Diego on Thursday, September 11, 2014, and gave a press conference in which he discussed terror threats from ISIS and other matters. KPBS filmed the press conference, which is presented here in its entirety.

In the same week that the U.S. marked the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, FBI Director James Comey came to San Diego and pronounced America safer than it was 13 years ago.

Even so, Comey said, counter terrorism remains the bureau's top priority. While the threat from al-Qaida has been diminished, he said new terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq and al-Shabab in Somalia have established themselves.

Authorities are concerned that American citizens who have left to join these terrorist groups might return to wage jihad domestically.

“We are very worried,” Comey said. “There will come a day when there will be a terrorist diaspora.”

He made his comments Thursday at the FBI’s headquarters in Sorrento Valley, inviting reporters to quiz him on the anniversary of 9/11. Comey, who became director last year, said the visit was part of his effort to visit each of the FBI’s field offices.

Because social media has been rife with rumors of Islamic fighters sneaking across the Mexican border and coming into the U.S. to commit terrorism, reporters asked Comey about it.

He dismissed the rumors that terrorists with ISIS — or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the term the Obama administration prefers for the group — is a border threat.

“I don’t have a specific piece of information that leads me to believe ISIL is trying that through the Mexican border,” Comey said.

He also said that no particular American city is fertile ground for breeding terrorism.

“It is something that attracts people from all different places,” Comey said. “I have a map in my head right now, and I can see them from all over the United States, different ages, men and women.”

He declined to say how many Americans have left to join ISIS. Last month, a man from San Diego fighting on behalf of the group was killed during a battle in Syria.

San Diego has had its share of links to other prominent terrorist groups. Two of the 9/11 hijackers lived for a time in Lemon Grove. Al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike three years ago, also once preached at a La Mesa mosque.

More recently, the FBI says a UC San Diego economics graduate joined al-Shabab. And three local men were convicted last year of providing material support to al-Shabab.

Another worry for the FBI, Comey said, is the easy access on the web to information on how to make explosives. Any troubled soul can make a detonating device in his pajamas in the basement, he said.

A new English language al-Qaida magazine also published an article last month that had suggested terror targets in the U.S., including General Atomics in San Diego. A spokesman for the local FBI said it’s not aware of any specific credible threat.

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Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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