“There is no evidence of an active plot right now,” Earnest told reporters Monday, although he noted that ISIS poses a definite threat to the United States and demonstrated last week their willingness to “perpetrate terrible acts” against the United States.
Earnest was referring to the ISIS beheading of American journalist James Foley. The extremist Islamist group circulated a video Tuesday of Foley’s slaying and showed another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, and said his fate would depend on President Obama’s next move.
While U.S. intelligence authorities have not identified a specific active plot against the U.S., Earnest said the Obama administration is deeply concerned about the threat ISIS poses because the group has recruited a significant number of U.S. and other Western country residents and citizens to their ranks who have passports and could easily return to their home countries to carry out terrorist acts.
The ISIS threat is dominating Obama’s first day back from vacation as he weighs military options, including whether to extend those airstrikes in Syria, where the extremist Islamist group originated.
Obama is meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday. Earnest said Obama has not made any decisions about airstrikes in Syria, although the U.S. military routinely prepares multiple options for the president to consider.
In addition to the airstrikes the U.S. has conducted over the last two weeks, Earnest said the administration is working closely with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to ensure that his government is more inclusive to Sunnis, Kurds and other ethnic minorities.
U.S. officials also are reaching out to Sunni tribes in western Iraq where ISIS has made major gains and other countries in the Middle East to persuade them to use their leverage to help fight the Islamist militants.
“There’s an opportunity for us to leverage their support to try to confront this threat,” Earnest said.