An Islamist fighter takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014.
Courtesy Reuters

In an interview with the Washington Post in May, FBI Director James B. Comey, who also served as President George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general, compared the wave of militants pouring into Syria and Iraq to the rush to join Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan as the Taliban swept that country. “We see Syria as that, but an order of magnitude worse in a couple of respects,” he said. “Far more people going there. Far easier to travel to and back from.”

But not everybody agrees that the United States should be alarmed. Writing in the New Yorker last month, the journalist Steve Coll pointed to “some terrorism specialists,” who argue that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is fighting a sectarian war and is more concerned with killing other Muslims than Westerners; that it “has shown no intent to launch attacks in the West, or any ability to do so.” In

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  • JYTTE KLAUSEN is Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation at Brandeis University.
  • Research for this paper was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Program, The National Institute of Justice. (Award 2012 ZA-BX-0006.) Opinions or points of view expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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