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Could a ‘Paris-type’ assault happen in the U.S.?

In the U.S., FBI director James Comey says he is not aware of any credible threats of what he calls “Paris-type” attacks or of any U.S. connections among the Paris attackers. At the same time, Comey said the FBI currently has 900 open inquiries into Islamic extremists in the homeland and federal charges have been brought against 69 people for allegedly supporting ISIS. Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times joins Megan Thompson for more on domestic threats.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    Here in Paris, the prosecutor's office said today, police have released seven of the eight people taken into custody following the raid Wednesday on a residence where police killed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks. One person arrested remains in custody.

    In the United States, FBI Director James Comey says he is not aware of any credible threats of what he calls "Paris- type" attacks or of any U.S. connections among the Paris attackers. At the same time, Comey says the FBI currently has 900 open inquiries into Islamic extremists in the homeland, and federal charges have been brought against 69 people for allegedly supporting ISIS.

    Joining me now to discuss the challenge of preventing an ISIS attack in the U.S. is "New York Times" reporter Matt Apuzzo.

    Matt, earlier this week in Europe, the head of Europol said they have a watch list of almost 10,000 people, that 2,000 Europeans have flown back and forth to Syria and Iraq over the last few years. Now, the number is much smaller in the U.S. and those itineraries, those travel itineraries like red flags, does that make it harder for U.S. authorities to figure out who to target?

  • MATT APUZZO, NEW YORK TIMES:

    Sure. You know, in the United States, the problem that ISIS poses here is actually very different from what's going on in Europe.

    The real struggle for American law enforcement and American counterterrorism officials is from guys they call HVEs, homegrown vice extremists. These are people who, you know, they haven't gone out to train. They haven't flown out to Syria. They're just disaffected angry people who are looking to glom on to something, and ISIS is out there with a very slick propaganda machine.

    They're really speaking to the school shooter crowd. They're speaking to guys who, you know, maybe in a previous generation might have joined a gang or done some other, you know, antisocial behavior.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That seems like a different social media strategy than perhaps in other parts of Europe where they're trying to recruit people to go down to Syria. This is little different in the U.S. to try to get them to commit horrible acts inside the United States after they're already there.

  • MATT APUZZO:

    Yes, that's absolutely right. The strategy has changed for ISIS. I mean, I think there's a recognition that it's much harder to get people on to a plane from the United States and get them to Syria, you know, the sort of wave of people of maybe nine a month past year have kind of slowed to a trickle.

    ISIS seems much more focused on trying to inspire people here to take up arms, and if you don't have a gun, use a knife, if you don't have a knife, use your car, you know, to commit these small one-off acts of violence, and do it in ISIS' name.

    ISIS doesn't care if you want to declare yourself to be part of the movement, they'll take it. They'll take credit for it and they'll sent propaganda around on it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You mentioned the school shooter crowd. In your story, there was an interesting double standard we have for intelligence agencies of how we perceive whether they capture ISIS or a school shooter.

  • MATT APUZZO:

    Yes, that's right. And it's something that really weighs heavily on American law enforcement, and it's a double standard that's obvious when you talk to guys who do this for a living. I mean, nobody had an expectation that the FBI should have stopped the Newtown school shooter or the Aurora theater shooter or the Charleston shooter in the black church before they opened fire. There was expectation they would detect this and there should have been a trap set.

    But if that same — if those same action were done by somebody who had been watching ISIS videos, then it might have been an intelligence failure, and it would be, you know, maybe congressional hearings and there would be, "What is the FBI not doing enough?" or "Why isn't our counter-terrorism trip wires enough?"

    And that's hard. That really speaks to what we consider terrorizing in the United States. We don't respond in the same way in the United States to a school shooting as we do if somebody opens fire in a public space and screams "Allahu Akbar". And that's a hard thing to balance when you're in the counter-terrorism world

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Matt Apuzzo of "The New York Times" joining us from Washington tonight — thanks so much.

  • MATT APUZZO:

    Great to be here.

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