Interview With CNN's Erin Burnett
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you so much.
SECRETARY KERRY: A pleasure. Thank you.
QUESTION: Americans, of course we now know, are dead in these horrible terror attacks here in Brussels. Do you consider this an attack against America?
SECRETARY KERRY: Whenever Americans are killed, of course.
QUESTION: So you do consider it an attack on America? Do you think Americans were targeted?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think it’s an attack on America, it’s an attack on Europe, and it’s an attack on civilized people in countries all around the world. It’s an attack on people who weren’t even here and who weren’t killed because it is an attack on everybody’s ability to move freely, to live without fear, and that’s what the terrorists want. And that is precisely why we have to continue, as we are, to go after Daesh with full determination to destroy them, and I am confident we are going to.
QUESTION: The – you’ve put out a warning about near-term attacks and the concern about – we know here in Belgium they’re worried about there’s people on the run, they’re worried about more cells, they’re worried about more attacks. Do you have knowledge of what those attacks might be?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t personally. I think there are strands of intelligence here and there which we wouldn’t talk about publicly anyway at this point. But the point is we know that there are foreign fighters who have returned from Syria over a span now of about five years, and they are in various places in the world. Loads of countries – America included, by the way; we’ve had some 500 Americans who have chosen to go to Syria and fight with Daesh over the course of the last years. And so that is the reason for people being vigilant and for being alert, and that’s the reason for travel advisories and restraints.
QUESTION: You talk about people going to Syria. I spoke to the brother of the bomb maker yesterday. He said the family had told the Belgians when he went to Syria in 2013; the Belgians did not follow up with them. I spoke to a young man yesterday. He has 10 to 15 friends who are in Syria right now with ISIS. He said to me, I’ll quote, “If I want to go tomorrow, I can go. You can call the police. They don’t care.” Many of these young men’s ultimate goal is to attack America. Could this kind of thing happen in the U.S.?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it did in San Bernardino. I mean, we saw somebody come back, radicalized, and go on a killing spree. So everybody understands that any of these foreign fighters who have come back still attached to Daesh. Now, many people have left Daesh recognizing that it was a lie, that all the things they’d been told were lies. Some of those people who tried to get away were executed. Others managed to get away and they’ve come back to tell the story of the lie.
So we don’t know how many people precisely there are who have filtered their way back in, but I believe very deeply that as we put additional pressure on Daesh in Syria and Iraq, it is entirely possible that in some other part of the world, people will lash out out of desperation.
QUESTION: But are you concerned about attacks on American airports, American metro stations, attacks like the ones we’ve seen here --
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- which intelligence is now saying are linked to ISIS headquarters?
SECRETARY KERRY: Erin, let me --
QUESTION: Which is a different profile than San Bernardino.
SECRETARY KERRY: Let me put it to you this way. Law enforcement and intelligence community people have to get it right to prevent an attack every minute of every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If somebody wakes up one morning in their apartment and decided they want to go out and kill themselves and take some people with them, they can most likely find a place on a subway, on a bus, in a market somewhere to do it, unfortunately.
So there is a very – this is a difficult challenge. And frankly, it’s quite remarkable that our law enforcement community, our intelligence community, our police have done as good a job as they have done of protecting us here, both in America as well as in other parts of the world.
Now, that doesn’t excuse one single event. When it happens, everybody is focused on it with the intensity that we see here in Belgium right now. But I am convinced that we are slowly and steadily deteriorating Daesh’s ability to recruit, its ability to prosecute its nihilistic ideology, and over time we are going to get back to a world where we feel that we can travel with impunity and feel safe.
QUESTION: So what about the young men here, though, the young men I spoke to that say they know so many people going to ISIS? And I said, “Why aren’t – why didn’t you go?” He said, “Well, I have a brain, but I understand why they go.” They’re still going.
SECRETARY KERRY: There are some who have gone, but there are less going and there are less able to go today. And as Daesh continues to get beaten, as its leadership continues to be decimated, I believe the attraction is going to be reduced, and I think you will see a lot fewer people believing that is a narrative worth associating with or putting your life on the line for.
QUESTION: And will ISIS still be a threat when you leave?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think this: I think that we are going to put a huge dent in them in the course of this year. There is no question in my mind. But it is going to take a number of years probably to reduce the impact of the ideology, of the – of people who will continue to carry an anger or a willingness to engage in some kind of act individually as a lone entity. I mean, even though we destroyed the core of al-Qaida – and we did – al-Qaida dispersed. There are al-Qaida operatives out there who continue to represent a threat. But they don’t represent a complete shredding of the fabric of your life, and that’s what we’ve been fighting with respect to Daesh. Because if you left Daesh unattended to and you didn’t go after them, the results would be absolutely devastating and I think people have come to that conclusion, which is why there isn’t one single country anywhere that supports Daesh. Daesh is isolated, and that’s why I can say to you with such confidence we will destroy it. Because every country in the region that surrounds it is opposed to Daesh. And the sooner we can deal with Assad and his presence in Syria, the sooner we will have an ability to go after Daesh and ultimately deliver on the promise I’ve just made.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary Kerry, thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.