Members of the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) are planning to carry out major terror attacks against targets in the United States or in Europe, American intelligence officials said Saturday.
Five intelligence officials stated to Bloomberg News that there is evidence that the organization is running a sleeper cells around the world, outside of Iraq and Syria. The goal: to gain a greater foothold in the Islamic world - politically and militarily.
According to retired U.S. Army Colonel Derek Harvey, the Middle East is gripped in a “competition for jihadi leadership” between IS and Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, following the falling out between the two groups last year.
Harvey also said that US President Barack Obama has severely underestimated IS's current hold in Iraq and Syria, due to a reluctance to put his "toe, foot, and then leg" back in Iraq.
Social networks and foreign nationals have contributed significantly to the upswing in IS influence in the Middle East, additional sources said, as the US struggles to update its outdated estimation that IS has just 10,000 combat soldiers in the region.
The intelligence community has since discovered that IS is working to recruit foreign fighters to carry out terror attacks abroad, an alarming fact revealed in January by a former member of Al Qaeda.
In addition, forty people were recently arrested in Kosovo over IS connections, a figure intelligence cites as proof that the number of foreign nationals being recruited is far higher than what official data states.
Brett McGurk, deputy assistant US Secretary of State for Iran and Iraq, warned that IS is more formidable than Al Qaeda.
“[IS is] better equipped, they’re better manned, they’re better resourced, they’re better fighters, they’re better trained than the Al Qaeda in Iraq that our forces faced,” McGurk said on the Charlie Rose show last week, referring to the group's previous Iraqi incarnation.
“It is a global expansionist, global jihadist organization” he said. “It is swollen with foreign fighters and suicide bombers” who will go “wherever the organization tells them to go. And that could very easily be capitals in the region, it could be capitals in Europe and, God forbid, it could be here.”
For the moment, however, there is a shred of hope: IS is not as technically apt as Al Qaeda is, intelligence officials say - leaving out the possibility of the group being able to carry out a wide-scale attack, at least for the time being. Economic limitations may also plague the terror organization; IS's rumored two-billion-dollar net worth may make them the richest-ever terrorist organization, but the self-styled "Caliphate" is plagued by economic instability throughout its territory as civil wars in Iraq and Syria continue to rage, making its "state" one of the world's poorest.
Meanwhile, IS has suffered significant losses in US airstrikes in Iraq over the weekend; rumblings, however weak, have also begun in Europe against the Islamists.
On Sunday, British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the threat, urging action against IS recruitment in the Middle East and in Britain in the Sunday Telegraph.
"If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain," he said. "I agree that we should avoid sending armies to fight or occupy, but we need to recognize that the brighter future we long for requires a long-term plan."
Cameron argued that security could only be achieved "if we use all our resources - aid, diplomacy, our military prowess." He also said Britain needed to work with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Egypt, Turkey "and perhaps even with Iran."
The statements surface days after IS slaughtered more than 400 ethnic Yazidis in Iraq in a short period, sparking concerns over ethnic cleansing spreading to other IS-controlled areas of the Middle East.