President: Terror threat has evolved into 'new phase'

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool)U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about counter-terrorism and the United States fight against Islamic State during an address to the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, December 6, 2015.

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The terror attack that took place in San Bernardino, Calif., last week was a new evolution of terrorism, President Barack Obama said in an address to the nation on Sunday. 

Because the attack was not an international operation, the president said, it was much harder to detect than "complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11," in spite of the fact that the terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, had stockpiled a large amount of weapons, ammunition and pipe bombs.

While Obama said the victims of the attack were "brutally murdered and injured by one of their coworkers and his wife," he did define the attack as an act of terrorism. However, stopped short of saying the attackers had been directed from terror groups overseas. He also said there was no hint of a "broader conspiracy" either.

"It is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West," Obama said.

It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino. And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.
- President Obama

Farooq and Malik may have been planning the attack for some time, however, and it is likely the holiday party the two attacked was not the only intended target. Malik reportedly pledged loyalty to the Islamic State just prior to the attack and was associated with radical Pakistani cleric Abdul Aziz, who leads what is known as the Red Mosque in Islamabad. The mosque is known for its ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda and, now, the Islamic State.

Copies of al Qaeda's Inspire magazine, aimed at promoting lone wolf-style attacks with devices like pressure cooker bombs, were also found among the deceased terrorists' belongings.

"It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino. And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers," Obama said.

President Obama said the United States would continue to take steps to protect its citizens in the face of threats made by the Islamic State, including continuing the airstrikes against ISIS targets. He also said the U.S. was providing further training to Iraqi and Syrian forces (presumably Syrian rebels at war with Syrian dictator Bashaar al-Assad) and targeting the Islamic State's online presence, though he did not explain what that meant.

The president also said he had ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country.

White House

Obama also used the opportunity to promote tighter gun control with changes to law, including preventing all people on the federal "no fly" list from buying a gun. It is unclear how such an action would have stopped Farooq and Malik, neither of whom was on the no-fly list.

He also argued that Congress should take steps to make it more difficult for people to purchase "powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino."

"I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill," Obama said.

The president called on Congress to authorize further military operations against ISIS if it believes – as he said he did – that the U.S. is at war with ISIS.

"I think it's time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight," Obama said.

Obama steered clear of indicating, however, that he would again send U.S. ground forces to fight in Iraq. He insisted that the current strategy of airstrikes and the use of special operations forces is working.

He also claimed in the speech that ISIS wanted the conflict between it and the U.S. depicted as a global war between America and Islam. ISIS, he said, "does not speak for Islam."

"They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world — including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we're to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate," Obama said.

He did not address the extermination of Christianity in ISIS's stronghold in northern Iraq and Syria. He did, however, claim Muslims must confront extremist ideology in the U.S. and abroad "without excuse."

"Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity," Obama said.

The president also hit at several Republican presidential candidates who have said only Christian refugees should be let into the country, though he did not name frontrunner Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush by name.

"It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It's our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that."

The address from the Oval Office was only President Obama's third such speech before the American people, and one in which he admitted many Americans fear terrorism is a "cancer that has no immediate cure."