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US army reports that Jamaicans are among recruits to Islamic extremists in Syria

Published:Thursday | March 12, 2015 | 3:33 PM

WASHINGTON (AP):

The top U.S. general in South America is reporting that about 100 would-be militants have left small Caribbean countries including Jamaica to go fight with Islamic extremists in Syria.

Marine General John Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the recruits return to their home nations, they could come up through cross-border drug or other criminal networks into the U.S. So far, however, he said he has seen no indications of a direct threat or scheme to attack the U.S.

He listed Jamaica, Trinidad, Suriname and Venezuela as countries where officials believe recruits have departed for Syria.

Kelly, who heads the U.S. Southern Command, said Iran and Islamic extremist groups are doing a "fair amount" of recruiting in the region, and some people have become radicalized through the Internet and others through radical mosques.

The amount of movement across the border and the sophistication of the networks overwhelm "our ability to stop everything," Kelly told reporters during a Pentagon briefing later in the day.

Kelly said the small Caribbean nations are concerned about the extremists returning home to conduct terror operations, because they don't have any real ability to deal with the problem.

And, once back in their country, he said, the recruits can travel freely between countries and potentially get across the border into America.

"Everyone is concerned, of course, if they come home," said Kelly, adding that while in Syria the recruits would "get good at killing and pick up some real job skills in terms of explosives and beheadings and things like that."

The concern about radicalized citizens traveling to Syria to fight has been growing, both in the U.S. and across Europe.

Most recently, three British schoolgirls went to Syria to join the Islamic State group, shocking families and friends and underscoring the difficulties in identifying recruits and would-be militants.

Kelly said the CIA, FBI and law enforcement all do a good job tracking the networks, but "there's a lot of people coming and going. It only takes one to cause a problem."

In other comments, Kelly said his ability to use surveillance aircraft to locate and track drug smugglers on the water would be cut in half if Congress fails to reverse automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration.

He said he'd likely lost the ability to use Navy P-3 aircraft and would be unable to hire private surveillance planes he usually uses for intelligence gathering.

Kelly was also asked about a judge's ruling prohibiting female guards from jobs that require them to touch a Muslim detainee. The government is arguing that the ban violates the military's gender-neutral policy. Kelly, on Thursday, said the ban sounds like gender discrimination to him but said he has no choice but to follow the order.

"I'm almost ashamed that I'm doing this because I am discriminating against my soldiers, because they're female," said Kelly. "They're trained, they're capable.