ALBANY — A week after a Rochester man was charged with supporting Islamic terrorists, FBI Director James Comey said counter-terrorism remains the bureau’s top priority but threats in the Internet age range from al-Qaeda offshoots to the angry loner downloading bomb designs.
Comey, visiting the FBI’s Albany Field Office last week, met with his agents and local authorities. He said afterward that finding the next threat will likely depend on someone who notices something amiss and speaks up.
The threat to cities like Albany is less than to New York City or national monuments, though the concern shouldn’t be dismissed anywhere, the former federal prosecutor said.
“There will come a terrorist diaspora out of the safe havens in Syria and Iraq,” Comey said of the territory now controlled by the Islamic State group.
The group has made international headlines with photographs and videos posted on the Internet showing mass executions of opponents and beheading Western journalists. The U.S. recently launched air strikes aimed at halting the group’s military advance.
The FBI is tracking more than 100 people who left the U.S. for Syria, returned or tried to go, Comey said. The Islamic State group has attracted thousands of fighters from both Europe and North America, he said.
He also said the U.S. is safer than before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that knocked down the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan killing almost 3,000 people.
In Rochester, the 30-year-old owner of a convenience store was charged recently by federal authorities with providing support to the Islamic State group. Mufid Elfgeeh, a naturalized U.S. citizen and native of Yemen, is accused of trying to help three men join the fighting — two of them FBI informants. He is also accused of buying two handguns and planning to kill U.S. military personnel.
Elfgeeh has pleaded not guilty. He is in jail without bail.
According to court papers, he frequently used Twitter accounts under aliases to show support for Muslim terrorist groups and violent jihad and soliciting donations to support fighters in Syria. Investigators tracked the posts to an Internet address for a broadband device at Elfgeeh’s home and business. Comey refused to publicly discuss the case.
The FBI director said their other priority is counter-intelligence and protecting America’s Internet. Asked about public corruption, he said its place on the priority lists would depend on each field office. While he was aware that his current successor as U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has said corruption is particularly bad at New York’s statehouse, Comey said there are many state capitals where the FBI does public corruption investigations, and Albany “doesn’t stand out in my mind.”
Across the road from the field office, two dozen family and friends of 22-year-old Reny Jose from suburban Albany, missing since he went with college friends to Panama City Beach, Fla., in March, rallied and held up photographs of him, hoping to interest Comey and the FBI in trying to find him.