South Korea warns of Islamic State threat to U.S. bases

The Islamic State group has gathered information on 77 U.S. and NATO air force facilities around the globe and is urging its supporters to attack them, according to South Korea’s intelligence agency.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) said in a statement Sunday that the terrorist group has also released information on individuals in 21 countries that could be potential targets, including one employee of a South Korean welfare organization.

The agency said that person is now under protection.

When asked Tuesday whether U.S. targets in Japan were among the 77 facilities or whether any Japanese or American nationals were among the individuals on the target list, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan said it was policy not to discuss specifics of operation security measures.

“We take threats to our installations very seriously, and throughout the USPACOM area of responsibility, our forces remain postured to counter any threat,” U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement to The Japan Times.

NIS said the Islamic State group’s hacking arm, the United Cyber Caliphate, collected information on U.S. Air Force units in South Korea, including at Osan and Kunsan air bases, as well as addresses and Google satellite maps. The information was reportedly released via the Telegram messaging service.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday that Seoul was sharing intelligence and closely coordinating with U.S. military officials on the potential terrorist threat, the Yonhap news agency reported.

“South Korea is working with the Combined Forces Command to tighten the protection of USFK bases and we also plan to provide security forces if there is a request,” Yonhap reported a Joint Chiefs official as saying. USFK is the acronym for U.S. Forces Korea.

The official said the South Korean military had already revised up its terrorism alert in November to deal with potential terrorist attacks.

While the NIS statement warned that “terror against South Korean citizens and foreigners in this country is becoming a reality,” activity by Islamic militants threatening South Korea and Japan, with their tiny Muslim populations, has been virtually nonexistent.

However, the Islamic State group has listed both countries as terrorist targets since late last year.

Experts say the November terrorist attacks in Paris highlight the need for Japan to be on high alert as it prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

While the risk of the Islamic State group staging coordinated attacks on Japanese soil is lower than in Europe, due to its distance from the Middle East and the lack of Japanese military involvement in the region, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “proactive pacifism” policy has made Japan more visible in the eyes of terrorists, some say.

The National Institute for Defense Studies Japan said in its 2016 East Asia Strategic Review released in March that the Islamic State group was fast becoming a growing threat to East Asia, including Japan. This was highlighted by the kidnapping and killing of Japanese nationals, it said.

“The ISIL is threatening the security of East Asia, including Japan, by targeting the Asian people and Asian embassies in the Middle East, showing its ambition for territorial expansion, as well as recruiting foreign fighters from Asian countries,” it also noted.

This is the first time the review, which has been published annually by the Defense Ministry’s core research arm since 1996, had allocated a chapter to the Islamic State group, underscoring Japan’s increased interest in the terrorists’ influence in Asia.



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