WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), Intelligence and Counterterrorism subcommittee ranking member, today delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled “Examining the Threat from ISIS and Al Qaeda.”
Remarks as prepared below:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing. While I wish we were meeting in person, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the continued threat linked to Islamist terrorism. Al Qaeda declared war on the United States in 1996 and followed up their words with the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and the direct attack on the homeland on September 11, 2001. ISIS spawned from a split with al Qaeda around 2013. This new terror organization implemented an even more brutal and violent ideology, killing and enslaving minority groups and beheading hostages. Their message appealed to 30,000-plus foreigners who traveled to join them, including over 200 Americans.
After years of persistent counterterrorism pressure, both terror groups have suffered major territorial and leadership losses. However, the terror threat has not remained overseas. The FBI has testified on multiple occasions that they have over 2,000 open investigations between al Qaeda and ISIS supporters across the United States.
Over the past few years, we have seen a rise in competing threats that have resulted in a diversion of resources that risk creating an opening for terror organizations to regroup. There is no doubt that the threat posed by nation-states is increasing, particularly in cyber space, and we have seen a rise in global white supremacy extremism and domestic terrorism.
I applaud the Trump Administration for recognizing the challenge of emerging and competing threats in the 2018 National Strategy for Counterterrorism, and for focusing on the need to use our counterterrorism toolkit to address these threats without losing focus on those posed by al Qaeda and ISIS.
As a nation, we are also challenged with “terrorism fatigue.” After nearly two decades of military action in Afghanistan, the American public is ready for military forces to come home. While I share this goal, it is essential that we maintain the ability to deploy counterterrorism capabilities and gather necessary intelligence to prevent power vacuums where terrorists can regroup and plot.
I am also very concerned about reports that al Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups are expanding in Africa and Southeast Asia. We have seen this movie before. After 9/11, al Qaeda was able to spread to affiliate groups in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere where they continued plotting, radicalizing, and carrying out attacks. Maintaining counterterrorism pressure and coordinating with the international community, we need to ensure that these new hotspots do not turn into operational safe havens.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today about the current state of al Qaeda and ISIS and their recommendations on how to implement a new strategy to counter the terror threat.
Before closing, I also want to congratulate Chairman Rose on the birth of his first child a few months ago. My best wishes to you and your family.