Obama seeks to calm fears over terrorism ahead of holiday season

President Obama will be conducting visits to the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center this week. The visits aim to reassure the nation of the White House strategy for combatting terrorism.

Saul Loeb/AP
President Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Dec. 6. Fears of terrorism are hanging over America’s holiday season, and Obama plans a series of events this week aimed at trying to allay concerns about his strategy for stopping the Islamic State group abroad and its sympathizers at home.

In an effort to ease fears relating to terrorism, President Obama will spend much of this coming week discussing his strategies for combatting the influence of the Islamic State (IS) militant group at home and abroad.

In recent weeks, the president has taken an increasingly soothing tone in response to terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., urging Americans not to allow themselves to be pulled apart by distrust and fear. 

"Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background," Obama said in his weekly address on Sunday, using an acronym for the extremist group. "That's how they stoke fear. That's how they recruit."

However, for an increasing number of Americans, such fears are very real, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. In January a Press-GfK poll found 5 in 10 Americans believed the risk of a terrorist attack in the United States was high. A new survey reveals that number has increased to 7 in 10, despite attempts by the government to assure citizens there are no credible threats to the US.

In effort to publicize his the government's counterterrorism efforts, the president has scheduled a series of high-profile visits to the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center this week, before leaving Washington for his annual two-week family holiday in Hawaii.

The Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino raised concerns about the US government's ability to identify lone-wolf radicals who may have been inspired by Islamic State. The US government has been successful in intercepting would-be terrorists who have been in contact with terrorist recruiters online, but the fact that the shooters in the San Bernardino attacks managed to remain under the government's radar until they killed 14 people at a health department holiday party has fueled fears that the government may not be doing enough.

The recruitment strategies employed by IS, including an online approach that focuses on inspiring lone attacks, has forced US intelligence officials to engage in a war on multiple fronts, from the Middle East to social media.

Obama will start the week with a National Security Council meeting at the Pentagon, followed by a public update about the US strategy against Islamic State.

On Thursday, Obama will visit the National Counterterrorism Center, which analyzes intelligence to stay abreast of recruiting methods and other information on terrorist groups. Obama is scheduled to address reporters after a briefing at the suburban Virginia facility.

The visits are seen as counterweights to the increased fear over terror attacks in the public and in the widely-viewed presidential election campaigns. Previously, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the US, a suggestion that the president has alluded to in public comments urging Americans to remain united.

"We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam," Obama said on Sunday.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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