FBI Director: More Resources Going to Fight Terrorism In Central Ohio

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The new FBI Director talked to select group of reporters on Tuesday about the agency's primary focus.

In the last decade, Central Ohio has become a central focus in the fight against terrorism.

Iyman Faris lived in Columbus as a truck driver but pleaded guilty in May 2003 to charges of providing material support and resources to Al Qaeda and conspiracy for providing the terrorist organization with information about possible U.S. targets for attack.

A second Columbus man, Nuradin Abdi, was linked to Faris for a failed plot to blow up a Columbus shopping mall.

And, Worthington native Christopher Paul is serving a 20-year prison term for planning terrorist activity.

CrimeTracker 10's Angela An was the only Columbus reporter invited to attend Tuesday's briefing with Director James Comey, who was sworn in as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s seventh director in September 2013. Tuesday was his first visit to the FBI's Cincinnati office since he took office.

"I worry about two different aspects of the terrorist threat, one that affects us here at home directly and one that is obviously a threat overseas," Comey said, as nearly two dozen local law enforcement leaders flanked him.

"We've taken the fight to that enemy," Comey continued. "The challenge is tough, as we've been successful there, more ungoverned spaces are popping up in North Africa... so that challenge has not gone away."

Comey says home grown radicals are constantly on his radar.

"If they're sitting in their basement, self-radicalizing and then going out to do something harmful that worries everyone in this room and a much more difficult threat to address," Comey said. "I don't want to talk about specific cases in Ohio, but those are both on my mind even as I'm here."

CrimeTracker 10's Angela An asked Comey if it would be safe to say that there are people in the state being watched, that fall under that secondary group of people who might be self-radicals hiding in their basement.

Comey replied, "Yes."

Barely two months ago, the Franklin County sheriff confirmed to 10TV it has had well over 50 contacts with individuals on the terrorist watch list. Most are a result of traffic stops, and the Sheriff Zach Scott said 95 percent of them were not U.S. citizens.

That's why Director Comey says cooperation with local law enforcement is critical to stopping terrorism.

Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs agrees. She was one of the chosen law enforcement representatives to meet the director.

"He's very interested in making sure that all our agencies are talking to each other and cooperating with each other and collaborating with each other," says Chief Jacobs. "That's the only way we're going to ensure public safety becomes a priority in our area."

Chief Jacobs also told CrimeTracker 10 that it's safe to always presume that there are people intent on doing harm in central Ohio and it would be unrealistic to think that what's going on around the world is not happening here.

"That's why we have two officers on our JTTF Task Force," says Jacobs, who added the second officer to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force roughly six months ago. She says the Columbus Division of Police also recently reinstated an officer to the U.S Marshals Southern Ohio Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team, or SOFAST, as it’s known.

Local law enforcement leaders say all these resources are just another sign of inter-agency cooperation that is growing in central Ohio.

No one will say whether additional resources confirm increased terrorist cell activity, but as CrimeTracker 10's Angela An reports, it's a good sign that terrorists are not backing away from Ohio.

During his visit to Ohio, Comey also mentioned two other priorities for Ohio: the growing heroin problem and making sure the possible budget sequester won't affect the number of agents he can put into the field.