An ISIS terror plot, or maybe not

CBS News describes the curious disparity between warnings of a massive terror plot from the Iraqi prime minister, and Western intelligence officials who say they don’t know what he’s talking about:

Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that captive militants for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) told his intelligence agents of an alleged plot to attack subways in the United States and Paris.

U.S. law enforcement officials told CBS News they are investigating the threat, but as of overnight, there was still no intelligence on any credible specific plot against the U.S. A half-dozen French officials contacted by The Associated Press said they knew of no plot.

FBI Director James Comey told reporters Thursday afte rnoon that he was unaware of any threat directed at U.S. subways.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said he was told of the purported plot by officials in Baghdad, and that it was the work of foreign fighters who had joined ISIS in Iraq, including French and U.S. nationals.

That’s exactly the scenario people in the U.S. and Europe have been worried about: terror operatives with military training and valid passports coming home from Syria and Iraq to wreak havoc in their nations of legal residence.  Al-Abadi grew a bit vague when asked for details of this plot, or when the attacks might occur:

Asked if the attacks were imminent, he said, “I’m not sure.” Asked if the attacks had been thwarted, he said, “No, it has not been disrupted yet… this is a network.” The Associated Press initially reported in error that al-Abadi said the attack was imminent. However, a review of his remarks established that he said, “I am not sure.”

“Today, while I’m here I’m receiving accurate reports from Baghdad that there were arrests of a few elements and there were networks from inside Iraq to have attacks … on metros of Paris and U.S.,” al-Abadi said, speaking in English. “They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq.”

He made the remarks at a meeting with journalists on the sidelines of a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.

Al-Abadi declined to give the location in the U.S. where the said attack was being plotted.

Really?  We’re sending warplanes, weapons, logistical support, and advisers to push ISIS out of his country, and the new, inclusive Prime Minister “declines” to give details about a serious terror threat?  Thanks a lot, Mr. al-Adbadi.

Of course, he and his intelligence services might have already shared those details with American authorities, whose response to media inquiries was all over the map:

NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the U.S. had seen the Iraqi prime minister’s report.

“We have not confirmed such a plot, and would have to review any information from our Iraqi partners before making further determinations,” Hayden said. “We take any threat seriously and always work to corroborate information we receive from our partners.”

John Miller, the New York Police Department’s top counterterror official, said they were aware of the Iraqi official’s statements “and we are in close contact with the FBI and other federal partners as we assess this particular threat stream.”

New York is the home to the country’s largest subway system.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his office was aware of the reported threat and that his administration was “treating it with the utmost precaution.”

Congressman Peter King, member of the Homeland Security Commission, told CBS 2 that he has not seen evidence of an imminent threat against the United States.

“I have been aware that there are plots that ISIS is planning overseas against other countries, quite honestly, I have not been advised of this — and I have been checking this out — I don’t believe that the U.S. government has been advised of an imminent plot,” King said.

At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Rear Adm. John Kirby would not comment on the reported plot.

The UK Daily Mail suggests American authorities “are skeptical of the claims by a man who has much to gain from an intensified military campaign against ISIS.”  Is there really anything to be gained by floating a sketchy terrorist plot by Western media?  The war is rocking along, bombs are falling, and if there’s nothing solid behind a story like this, it’s going to generate a minor sensation for a day or two at most.  Perhaps al-Abadi misjudged the U.S. government’s reaction, but I doubt he’d misjudge it by that much.  It’s more likely he was sincerely relaying a warning he heard from his intelligence people, but maybe they got it wrong, or made it sound like more solid intelligence then it actually was.  It’s good to be diligent, of course, and be on guard for just such an attack, but there’s a difference between general awareness and a specific warning of imminent danger.

Update: For what it’s worth, a Canadian member of ISIS boasted of preparing for an attack that would resemble what the Iraqi prime minister warned about, as reported by the Daily Caller:

In a video conference interview with Vice News, Farah Shirdon (also known as Abu Usamah Somali) announced the plot while discussing the current operations of the terrorist group.

???We???ll sure be making attacks in New York soon [with Allah’s permission]. A lot of brothers there are mobilizing right now [thanks to Allah],??? Shirdon told Vice???s Shane Smith.

???What are they mobilizing for???? Smith asked.

Shirdon laughed and responded, ???Mobilizing for a brilliant attack, my friend.???

He also claimed that ISIS has captured ???thousands??? of prisoners of the West and they plan to behead them if the United States and other countries continue their attacks.