National security concerns are growing over recent reports of Americans, Europeans, and Australians traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In an attempt to curb Islamic militants from returning, the United States is increasing security screenings at airports on Monday, the Washington Post reports. The heightened security checks will target passengers who are traveling from Australia and European countries that don't require visas to travel to the United States.
Under the new guidelines set up by the Department of Homeland Security, travelers from countries included in the department's Visa Waiver Program will need to provide security officials with detailed background information prior from boarding their respective planes. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement on Monday:
The new information sought includes additional passport data, contact information, and other potential names or aliases. We are taking this step to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program, to learn more about travelers from countries from whom we do not require a visa. We are also confident these changes will not hinder lawful trade and travel between our Nation and our trusted foreign allies in the Visa Waiver Program.
The Homeland Security secretary added that passengers can provide the information electronically through their travel applications.
U.S. officials reportedly told the Washington Post that these security increases are being implemented because of the rising numbers of people from "visa-waiver" countries traveling to Syria to fight alongside ISIS. When these citizens come from "visa-waiver" countries, they can travel seamlessly throughout Europe and, in many cases, to the United States, the news source reports.
A senior Homeland Security official told the Washington Post:
Many of the leading visa-waiver countries are seeing their citizens going to Syria to join [the Islamic State] or al-Qaeda affiliates in that country and potentially returning home with training and new skills. We want to ensure that we know exactly who is coming and have the most information possible to make good decisions.
These new security measures are a pretty big gesture from the U.S. government, which insisted in August that there's no evidence of an ISIS terrorist plot against Americans on U.S. soil. “We are concerned about the threat that is posed by [ISIS], but it is the assessment ... that there currently is not an active plot under way to attack the U.S. homeland," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in late August.
However, it's clear that ISIS has garnered incredible support from foreign fighters. A CIA source told CNN in September that more than 15,000 foreign fighters, including 2,000 from Western nations, have traveled to Syria to join the terrorist group. The CIA also said that ISIS could "muster between 20,000 and 31,500" fighters.
Fear of an ISIS attack on U.S. soil escalated in late September, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was misquoted in the media of saying the terrorist group was actively targeting New York City and Paris subways. His claim was later refuted by U.S. intelligence officials. Images: Getty Images (3)