John Brennan
John Brennan

WASHINGTON: CIA director John Brennan warned yesterday that the attacks in Paris were likely not a “one off event” and that he expects the Islamic State group has more operations in the pipeline. “Security and intelligence services right now are working feverishly to see what else they can do in terms of uncovering it,” he said at a Washington think tank. The CIA chief said Friday night’s attacks by gunmen in suicide vests in the heart of the French capital were carefully planned and executed.

“This was not something done in a matter of days. This is something that was carefully and deliberately planned over the course of several months in terms of whether they had the operatives, the weapons, explosives, suicide belts. I would anticipate that this is not the only operation ISIL has in the pipeline,” he said, using an alternate acronym for IS, the militant group that has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq.

At least 129 people were killed in the attacks carried out by at least eight gunmen nearly simultaneously at a stadium, a concert hall and restaurants as throngs of Parisians were enjoying a night out. The attacks were the latest in a burst of horrific attacks attributed to IS – following the apparent bombing October 31 of a Russian airliner over the Sinai with 224 people aboard and twin suicide bombings that killed 44 people in Beirut on Thursday. “They are looking abroad to have these spectacular attacks to further their narrative that the caliphate is growing and is successful,” Brennan said.

Intelligence services were aware that IS was planning attacks outside their strongholds in Iraq and Syria, particularly targeting Europe, Brennan said. “I can tell you it was not a surprise that this attack was carried out, from a standpoint that we did have strategic warning, we knew plans, plotting by ISIL was underway, looking particularly at Europe as a venue for carrying out these attacks,” he said.

But the large numbers of individuals who have gone to Syria and Iraq and then returned to Europe, he said, has strained the capacity of European intelligence services to monitor them all. The fact that such a complex plot was carried out without being detected also shows IS has “gone to school on what they need to do in order to keep their activities concealed from the authorities”, he said.

Brennan made a pitch for reviewing curbs placed in recent years on the intelligence services’ surveillance capabilities, saying “unauthorized disclosures” and “handwringing” had made international efforts to track down terrorists “much more challenging”. The Paris attacks show IS is shifting its sights to the West, raising questions about a US-led strategy that has focused on air strikes on its strongholds in Syria.

Brennan, however, argued that containing the group in the region remains the most effective strategy, and said there have been notable successes in disrupting the flow of people and material needed to carry out attacks. Likewise, he cautioned that closing borders either in Europe or the United States was inconsistent with western values and “not sustainable”. “We don’t want to have these terrorists succeed in taking away the freedoms and liberties that we pride ourselves on, whether it be here in the United States or in Europe.” But he said no country was “immune from ISIL’s touch”.

Meanwhile, at least eight US states are seeking to block a program to resettle Syrian refugees within their borders, citing security fears in the wake of the Paris attacks. The movement swelled Sunday and Monday, prompting President Barack Obama to push back by urging the United States to “step up and do its part” to help those fleeing war-torn Syria. The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one Paris assailant, has revived Europe’s debate on how hard a line to take on record migrant influx from Syria.

In the United States, Republican presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush said outright America must not take in Syrian refugees because they might include Islamic State militants. And Republican state governors lined up to reject plans to resettle Syrians on US soil. “Given the tragic attacks in Paris and the threats we have already seen, Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Texas,” Governor Greg Abbott of the large southern state wrote yesterday in a letter to Obama.

Abbott urged the president to halt his plans to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees in the United States, arguing the government could not provide safety guarantees. “As such, opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril,” he said. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant issued a similarly blunt statement, saying “I will do everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees in Mississippi.” Obama’s policy of welcoming such individuals “is not only misguided, it is extremely dangerous.”

Alabama and Michigan announced their opposition to Syrian refugees on Sunday. In addition to Mississipi and Texas, they have been joined by Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana and Illinois. All eight states are led by Republican governors. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley opposed Democrat Obama’s plans, saying “I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”

Governor Rick Snyder, whose state of Michigan is home to one of America’s largest concentrations of Middle East immigrants, said he had decided to suspend arrivals of Syrian refugees under Obama’s program until the Department of Homeland Security completes a “full review” of security clearances and procedures. Michigan’s leading newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, reported that between 1,800 and 2,000 refugees have resettled in the state over the past year, about 200 of whom were from Syria.

Another US governor, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal who also is running for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, wrote Obama Saturday expressing “grave concern” about allowing Syrian migrants into the country, and saying it would be “prudent to pause the process”. “Authorities need to investigate what happened in Europe before this problem comes to the United States,” Jindal wrote. Jindal complained he was kept in the dark about Syrian refugees as they began arriving in New Orleans earlier this month. “It is irresponsible and severely disconcerting to place individuals, who may have ties to ISIS, in a state without the state’s knowledge or involvement,” he said.

Obama, speaking Monday from Turkey where he is attending a summit of the world’s top economies, said it is “very important… that we do not close our hearts to these victims” of Middle East violence. He attacked as “shameful” Republican presidential candidates’ calls for refocusing aid on Christian refugees, rather than Muslims. “That’s not American,” he said. Obama in September announced US plans to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by Sept 2016. The White House has stressed the plan carries little risk because there is a “robust” vetting process in place. – Agencies