Dr. Ben Carson argued Thursday that the al-Qaeda terrorists that killed thousands in 2001 – downing four planes, destroying the World Trade Center towers and damaging the Pentagon – were “unsophisticated” compared to the Islamic State, or ISIS.
“Being responsible for the Sept. 11th attacks, what happened right there, really didn’t require a great deal of sophistication because we were not paying attention,” Carson told reporters on Thursday in Alabama, seeming to cite intelligence failures that failed to prevent the attacks. “We were not coordinating our efforts, so you didn’t have to be all that great, you had to be able to fly some planes, and get a couple of people in here. That’s going to be a lot more difficult to do now. You’re going to have to be a lot more sophisticated than that now.”
Carson said on Thursday that ISIS is “absolutely” more of a threat to America than al-Qaeda was in 2001. He’s previously said that ISIS is an “existential” threat in a way that al Qaeda wasn’t, though both Islamic extremist groups share a core mission to wage jihad against Western societies.
Carson’s comments dismissing al Qaeda are the latest in a series of controversial foreign policy stances taken by the GOP candidate as he zeroes in on national security issues following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week. Carson has struggled to talk about foreign policy during the Republican primary, making erroneous assertions about which countries are in NATO or militarily involved in Syria. Since the Paris attacks, which ISIS has taken credit for, Carson has fumbled several high-profile interviews and his poll numbers have dipped amid the renewed focus on terrorism. His campaign has responded to the resulting criticism by saying that Carson gets daily mid-morning national security briefings and that he’s getting better as the campaign progresses.
In the same speech Thursday, Carson also compared the millions of refugees fleeing Syria’s bloody civil war to rabid dogs.
“We must balance safety against just being a humanitarian,” Carson said. “For instance, you know, if there’s a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not gonna assume something good about that dog. And you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way. Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs, by any stretch of the imagination.”
“But you’re putting your intellect into motion and you’re thinking how do I protect my children?” he added. “At the same, I love dogs and I’m gonna call the humane society and hopefully they can come take this dog away and create a safe environment once again.”
“By the same token, we have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are quite frankly,” Carson continued. “Who are the people that want to come in here and hurt us and want to destroy us. Until we know how to do that, just like it would be foolish to put your child out in the neighborhood knowing that that was going on, it is foolish for us to accept people if we cannot have the appropriate type of screening.”
There are existing authorities and processes for screening refugees, White House officials say.
“There is a stringent process in place to look at all of these factors and to interview these individuals and to make sure – and it’s part of the reason why it takes so darn long,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday, noting that the entire process takes 18-24 months. “It’s an interagency, multi-agency, layered interview process for these guys to – for these individuals to get clearance.”