U.S. officials say there’s no evidence of a terrorist plot to bomb the New York City and Paris subways, despite remarks made Thursday by Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Al-Abadi told reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly that the attack was imminent and had not been thwarted, according to the Associated Press – a claim that was soon dismissed by countless U.S. officials and intelligence experts. The prime minister’s remarks come just hours after the U.S. and its partners bombarded ISIS targets in Syria for the third day in a row.
Despite the prime minister’s claim that American officials had been informed of the threat, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies were caught off guard by the remark, initially telling reporters they’d investigate the news. Shortly after, they reported that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence of a current threat. A law enforcement official tells NBC News they first heard of the subway plot in the media.
Sources tell NBC News that the FBI checked the report and found nothing to support al-Abadi’s claim, although they noted that U.S. intelligence was aware one month ago of a potential threat to the New York region’s commuter rail system. Authorities did not find any specific plot.
Still, Iraqi officials are standing by the prime minister’s story, telling NBC News Thursday afternoon that captured ISIS fighters “revealed that there are ISIS American and French fighters out there and they have a plot to hit the metro in Paris and to hit somewhere in the U.S.”
Some U.S. officials said they found the manner in which the prime minister announced the possible attack to be unusual, with one official speculating that the Iraqis may be seeking to play up the ISIS threat in order to strengthen their hand in asking for U.S. assistance.
Still, officials are quick to emphasize anti-terror precautions.
“We have not confirmed such a plot, and would have to review any information from our Iraqi partners before making further determinations. We take any threat seriously and always work to corroborate information we receive from our partners,” the White House’s National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said.
“This morning it has been reported that there may be imminent threats against subway systems in the United States,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “I want to assure the people of New York that we are monitoring these reports closely and are in close communication with officials in Washington.”
In an unrelated development later Thursday, FBI Director James Comey told reporters that the agency believes it has identified the masked militant who has appeared in gruesome videos in which two American journalists and a British aid worker have been beheaded.
Also on Thursday, the United Nations said a leading female Iraqi human rights lawyer and activist, Samira Salih al-Nuaimi, had been tortured and publicly executed after posting anti-ISIS messages on her Facebook. She was shot to death by a firing squad in a public square in Mosul, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
The growing public awareness of terror threats and reprisals comes on the heels of fresh U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamist targets on Wednesday, which included oil refineries and an ISIS vehicle. At least 14 ISIS fighters were killed in the strikes, as well as five civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.
At a Pentagon press briefing on Thursday, officials emphasized coalition partners’ role in last night’s attack: Of the 16 fighter jets used to fire 41 total bombs, 10 of the planes were from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and fired 23 bombs; six were from the U.S, they fired 18 bombs.
The attacks on the modular oil refineries – relatively small and easily transportable units that can produce up to 500 barrels of oil a day – represent the first time the United States has specifically targeted part of ISIS’s oil infrastructure, which has allowed the group to earn an estimated $1 million to $2 million a day from black market sales.
Oil is a major source of revenue for the terrorist militia, which is thought to have a net worth of $2 billion. The group has also grown its war chest through multimillion-dollar ransoms, selling off ancient relics, robbing banks and seizing other resources.
On Wednesday, the president called on United Nations members to join his coalition of some 40 nations that have partnered to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, as the president put it in announcing the military operation.
“Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition,” Obama said. “Today, I ask the world to join in this effort.”
Following his address, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution underscoring the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism. In that meeting, the president had lead a discussion on the risks of foreign ISIS fighters, armed with Western passports, returning to do harm to their home countries.
It’s a growing fear that may help increase the ranks of the American-led coalition.
The beheading of a French man by ISIS-linked militants in Algeria has France considering joining the U.S. in its airstrikes operation in Syria, the Telegraph reported on Thursday. France is already hitting ISIS with airstrikes in Iraq, but the latest violence against one of its citizens may prompt the country to expand its partnership to include action in Syria, according to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“We already have an important task in Iraq and we will see how the situation evolves in coming days,” he said on RTL radio. “We are asking the question.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron also called on his country to join in the airstrikes against ISIS on Wednesday, just hours before British police launched a broad antiterror dragnet across London and the English Midlands that resulted in the arrests of nine men with suspected ties to a banned Islamist group, Al Muhajiroun, that has expressed support for ISIS.
British police said the arrests were “part of an ongoing investigation into Islamist-related terrorism and are not in response to any immediate public safety risk,” according to The New York Times.
The U.K. has said they support America’s war against ISIS and is arming Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the Islamist militants in Iraq, but they’ve so far shied away from joining in the U.S.-led airstrikes.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, however, seemed to criticize the American-led intervention in Iraq and Syria.
“I warn that if the right approach is not undertaken in dealing with the issue at hand, we get closer to a turbulent and tumultuous region with repercussions for the whole world. The right solution to this quandary comes from within the region and regionally-provided,” he told the General Assembly.
President Obama, meanwhile, is moving to shore up Syrian opposition forces that the administration hopes will both fight ISIS and repel the regime forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Addressing the Syria Ministerial at the U.N. on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. would be donating an additional $40 million to those opposition forces, including $25 million designated to support civilian efforts to form a new government.