Top U.S. Intel Official: Retaking Raqqa Will Fail to Hamper ISIS Ambitions Abroad

DNI Dan Coats says intel sharing is imperative amid threat of homegrown attacks

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats / Getty Images
May 23, 2017

The American-led offensive to retake the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria will fail to hamper the terrorist group's ambitions to perpetuate attacks against the West, the top U.S. intelligence official said Tuesday.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told senators that "driving a stake through the heart" of ISIS will deny jihadists a centralized safe haven to plan and direct attacks, but heeded that it will ultimately fall short of solving the problem in view of the threat of homegrown attacks and the rapid spread of its ideology.

His testimony arrived as British authorities continued to investigate the deadly suicide bombing in Manchester, England, that killed at least 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night.

Though the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack Tuesday morning, Coats told lawmakers that American officials had not yet confirmed an ISIS link.

"I might mention that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack in Manchester although they claim responsibility for virtually every attack," Coats testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We have not verified yet the connection."

Coats said U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that a suicide bomber carried out the attack, detonating an improvised explosive device as concert goers were pouring out of the Manchester Arena. At least 22 people, including an 8-year-old girl, were killed, and an additional 59 were injured.

British police have named British national Salman Abedi as the suspected bomber. Abedi, 22, was the son of Libyan refugees and was previously known to authorities.

U.S. and British authorities are investigating whether others were involved. Coats said he plans to speak with his British counterpart over the phone Tuesday afternoon to discuss the unfolding investigation.

Coats said it is imperative for the United States and its partners to enhance information sharing capabilities given the rising threat of ISIS-inspired, homegrown attacks.

"It's essential given the threats that we face today that we are all in on dealing with this issue," he testified. "There is no safe haven anymore among our allies in terms of being a target for an attack. The better that we can share information, the better we can maintain our relationships and trust those relationships, the better able we are to prevent these type of attacks."

Coats rejected suggestions by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) that reports of President Donald Trump revealed classified information to Russian diplomats could harm American intelligence-sharing relationships.

"I have not seen any evidence of that or any reporting relative to anything that would lead to that conclusion," he said.

Western Europe has come under extensive pressure to establish an intelligence sharing platform that would coordinate Europe's extensive network of security services. This platform is particularly important as ISIS loses ground in Iraq and Syria and foreign fighters return home to Europe.

U.S. defense officials estimate 1,900 of the roughly 7,000 foreign fighters who left the West to fight for ISIS already have filtered back into Europe. That number is expected to climb due to the U.S.-led offensive to retake Raqqa.