Congress Seeks to Restrict U.S. Travel to Syria

New bill would level harsh penalties for unauthorized travel

Members of Ahrar al-Sham brigade, one of the Syrian rebels groups, exercise in a training camp / AP
• March 13, 2014 2:45 pm


A new bill would severely restrict Americans from traveling to Syria and would imprison violators for up to 20 years for breaching the restrictions.

The bill, authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), was authored in response to a large influx of foreign fighters in Syria, including at least 50 Americans who are suspected of training and colluding with terror groups in the region.

"The International Conflicts of Concern Act" would officially designate Syria as a "country of conflict concern" and prevent Americans from traveling there without a license approved by the Treasury Department, according to a copy of the bill obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Additionally, the bill would prohibit U.S. citizens from providing material support to any group operating in Syria, including both pro-government and anti-government forces.

Severe travel restrictions are necessary in order to stop the stream of Americans into Syria, where they are suspected of training with terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda before returning to the United States. These trainees pose a significant security threat, Wolf said.

"It’s very hard to track them and very hard to have a conviction," Wolf said. "They’re bringing back the terrorist activity and training."

The bill would enable the U.S. government to keep close track of who exactly is traveling to Syria and when they return. This could help prevent radicalized individuals from returning to America and plotting potential attacks, Wolf said.

"There are Americans over there fighting," Wolf said. "The concern is they’ll learn the techniques and strategies [of jihad] and bring them back to the U.S."

"We want to make sure there is the ability to convict these people if they’ve been over fighting with the jihadis," Wolf said. The new bill would deter Americans from traveling to Syria in the first place "if they know they can come back and be prosecuted with a very stiff penalty."

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has warned multiple times over the past several months that terrorist cells in Syria are using the country as a training ground to radicalize foreign nationals.

These terror groups "have aspirations for attacks on the homeland," Clapper recently told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

U.S. intelligence agencies have become aware of "training complexes" in Syria, where foreign fighters are taught "to go back to their home countries and conduct terrorist acts, so this is a huge concern," Clapper said at the time.

Reports indicate that at least 11,000 foreign fighters have entered Syria since the country’s bloody civil war first erupted. This includes many Western Europeans and at least 50 Americans, according to media reports.

U.S. citizens currently can travel to nearby countries such as Turkey and easily slip over the porous border into Syria, Wolf noted.

"You can fly now to Turkey very easily without visas," Wolf said. "The problem is you send somebody there, they fly to Turkey, pick up weapons, fight with the jihadis, learning how to do X, Y, and Z, and then they come back to the U.S." where they pose a serious threat.

Wolf’s bill would help reduce the flow of Americans to Syria by enabling the president to restrict both travel and material support to the war-torn country.

Those who travel to Syria without approval from the Treasury Department would be subject to civil and criminal penalties and could face a 20-year prison sentence under the bill.

Syria would be designated for one year under the legislation and then subject to annual renewals of the law by the president.

The bill further instructs the president to file a report outlining any other countries that may fit the criteria for being designated for travel restrictions under the bill.

Published under: Frank Wolf, Syria, Terrorism