Isis not comparable to al-Qaida pre-9/11, US intelligence officials say

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US intelligence officials have concluded that Islamic State (Isis) militants do not currently pose a direct threat of a major attack on an American city and, despite the group’s dramatic rise to prominence in the Middle East, is not comparable to “al-Qaida pre-9/11”.

Details of the current US intelligence community’s assessment of Isis were made public on Wednesday in rare public remarks by Matthew Olsen, the departing director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Speaking a day after a video emerged showing Isis fighters murdering Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist beheaded by the group in a month, Olsen conceded the militant group had made dramatic territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, and displayed an unprecedented skill at using the internet for propaganda.

He said it viewed itself as “the new leader in the global jihadist movement” although US intelligence officials maintain al-Qaida currently poses a more serious adversary.

But Olsen played down the risk of a spectacular al-Qaida-style attack in a major US or even European city, adding: “There is no credible information that [Isis] is planning to attack the United States”. He added there was “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States – full stop”.

The leading counterterrorism expert said said it was “spot on” to conclude that Isis is significantly more limited than al-Qaida was, for example, in the run-up to 9/11, when it had underground cells across Europe and the US. “We certainly aren’t there,” Olsen said. “[Isis] is not al-Qaida pre-9/11”.

His assessment – effectively the view of the US government’s foremost terrorist monitoring agency – contrasts with the flurry of reports indicating alarm and even panic in western governments over the prospect of foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.

The response has been particularly heated in the UK, the source of as..

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