Lt. Col. Kevin Jarrard believes those wondering whether the Islamic State’s reach could extend into middle America should remember or learn what happened in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004.
“Every American ought to know that (city’s) name,” said the Riverside Military Academy commandant, who served with the Marines in Iraq twice in regions with opposing sectarian majorities.
“That’s what’s coming, and anybody who thinks differently should just read history,” he said.
In a three-day ordeal, armed Islamic terrorists from Chechnya besieged a school in a town of 30,000-plus residents, killing 334 people.
“Anything is permitted in their ideology,” Jarrard said. “There is no immorality associated with violence in their minds. If they’ll take a knife and cut somebody’s head off on YouTube, there’s no negotiating with that kind of evil.”
The rise in power and influence and recent conquests and atrocities by organized terrorists in Iraq and Syria have prompted U.S. politicians and military leaders in recent days to consider how to defeat the extremist fighters.
As part of the U.S. response, President Barack Obama’s request for congressional backing to train and arm rebels battling the militants in Syria earned easy approval by the GOP-controlled House, as well as in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has introduced bills on the matter as well, including one calling for an emergency short-term suspension in a federal visa waiver program meant to expedite foreign travel for residents of the U.S. and 38 designated countries.
The concern is terrorists with Western passports could use the program for easier entry into the U.S.
“As this threat has become more grave, I’ve said airstrikes alone aren’t going to stop the Islamic State,” Collins said. “We have to take proactive measures to make sure jihadists don’t get into this country and hold other countries accountable in helping us stop their funding sources.”
To defeat terrorism, “we’re going to need strong leadership from Washington,” he said. “We can’t, as President Obama has said, degrade or roll back terrorism.”
And it’s a crisis with new and alarming developments every day.
Last week, the Islamic State released a video flexing its military muscle and taunting U.S. posturing on the issue.
Backing up its propaganda, terrorists backed by tanks captured 16 Kurdish villages in northern Syria near the Turkish border, prompting civilians to flee their homes.
And the news wasn’t confined to the Middle East. Police on Thursday said they thwarted a plot to carry out beheadings in Australia by Islamic State supporters, raiding more than a dozen properties across Sydney.
“Anybody who understands (the terrorists) in any other term than evil and an existential threat to our way of life is naive at best,” Jarrard said. “I don’t think it’s a question of if there’ll be another major terrorist strike in the U.S. It’s simply a question of when.”
Americans, weary of more than a decade of war in the Middle East, are demanding action, but they don’t necessarily want boots on the ground, said Jonathan Miner, a University of North Georgia associate professor who teaches Middle Eastern politics.
“The crisis and a solution to it is not any easier before it became a big part of the public and media attention,” Miner said.
“It seems to me the president is trying to do something, but he’s also trying to minimize the exposure of the U.S. in the region while also cooperating in as many ways as possible to develop foreign policy that will damage (the terrorist group).”
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said surveys are showing 62 percent of Americans “think we need to do something, but even a larger proportion don’t think what we’re going to do is going to be very effective.
“It’s a curious combination. We’ll continue to bomb and use drones, and they’re probably not sufficient to win the war.”
Still, Bullock said, consider the U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Other groups came in their place, like (the Islamic State),” Bullock said. “Those who say this (crisis) is something we may have to deal with, not for months or years but decades, are probably correct.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.