ABOVE: Iraq’s Prime Minister says an ISIS attack on the United States and Paris may be imminent
NEW YORK – Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that captured Islamic State militants have told Iraqi intelligence agents of an alleged plot to attack subways in the United States and Paris, but French and American officials said they had no such information.
A senior Obama administration official said no one in the U.S. government is aware of such a plot, adding that the claim was never brought up in meetings with Iraqi officials this week in New York. President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Wednesday. The administration official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
There was no immediate comment from France. A half-dozen French officials contacted by The Associated Press said they knew of no plot.
Al-Abadi said he was told of the purported plot by officials in Baghdad, and that it was the work of foreign fighters who had joined the Islamic State group in Iraq, including French and U.S. nationals.
Initially the AP quoted al-Abadi as saying “yes” when asked if an attack was imminent. A review of his remarks established that he actually said, “I’m not sure.”
He said that the attack threat had not been thwarted.
“No, it has not been disrupted yet… this is a network,” he told a meeting with reporters near the United Nations, where he is attending the annual General Assembly.
“Today, while I’m here I’m receiving accurate reports from Baghdad that there were arrests of a few elements and there were networks from inside Iraq to have attacks … on metros of Paris and U.S.,” al-Abadi said, speaking in English. “They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq.”
Later, a senior Iraqi official in New York qualified the prime minister’s remarks. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make statements on the record.
“There were serious threats that were uncovered by Iraqi intelligence, and they were forwarded to the appropriate security authorities of our partners. A full assessment of the veracity of the intelligence and how far the plans have gone into implementation is ongoing,” the official said. “We cannot further discuss the nature of the threat in the media, except to reaffirm that Daesh will continue to endanger international peace and security unless it is eradicated.”
The recently elected Iraqi leader told journalists Thursday that the plot was the work of foreign fighters of the Islamic State group in Iraq.
Al-Abadi declined to give the location in the U.S. where such an attack might occur.
In a CNN interview, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk said he attended a meeting between Vice-President Joe Biden and al-Abadi on Thursday, and that Al-Abadi told them there is “no specific credible threat whatsoever that they have uncovered to the United States.” The White House said the meeting was planned last week and not related to al-Abadi’s remarks about the purported plot.
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The Islamic State extremists’ blitz in Iraq and Syria prompted the United States to launch airstrikes in Iraq last month, to aid Kurdish forces who were battling the militants and to protect religious minorities.
In addition to the brutality Islamic State has visited on the people in Iraq and Syria, western leaders have voiced concern that the group would move its terror operations outside the region.
This week, the U.S. and five allied Arab states expanded the aerial campaign into Syria, where the militant group is battling President Bashar Assad’s forces as well as Western-backed rebels.
John Miller, the New York Police Department’s top counterterror official, said they were aware of the Iraqi official’s statements “and we are in close contact with the FBI and other federal partners as we assess this particular threat stream.”
New York is the home to the country’s largest subway system.