NATO's top general Philip Breedlove has warned that the Islamic State terror group is rapidly infiltrating refugee groups entering from the Middle East and North Africa, and suggested world leaders do more to counter future terrorist attacks.
In testimony to the Senate armed services committee, Air Force Gen. Breedlove said that the terror is "spreading like a cancer" among refugees and cautioned that the group's members are "taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own, with terrorist attacks."
"I think that they (IS) are doing that today," he said, The Guardian reports. "I think every refugee flow needs to be looked at with an eye toward it could be taken advantage of by those who seek to do us harm."
Breedlove drew attention to how ISIS has repeatedly threatened to attack the U.S., and the entire Western world, and underscored the importance of taking such threats seriously.
"I would take Daesh (another name or ISIS) at their word - and I believe they will take the opportunities," he said.
More than 4.5 million people have Syria since 2011, and in 2015 alone, over a million refugees made their way into Europe, fleeing civil war and terrorism from Syria and the surrounding region. Since January 2016, at least 131,000 migrants have already arrived in Europe.
Over the past several months, a number of American and European political leaders have expressed opposition to accepting migrants, particularly after one of the jihadists in the Paris attacks was revealed to have entered Europe with Syrian refugees coming through Greece.
In November, US House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters that the Syrian refugee situation "requires a pause" and said that the ultimate solution is a strategy to defeat ISIS.
"ISIS showed they are committing an act of war against the West," he said, and explained that Republican party leaders had assembled a task force to consider legislation "as quickly as possible" that would suspend the admittance of Syrian refugees.
"This is a moment where it is better to be safe than sorry. So we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population," he added.
On Tuesday, a federal court overturned one such legislation, saying it "clearly discriminates" against refugees.
Others, however, such as Bill Frelick, the director of the refugee rights program for Human Rights Watch, urged world leaders to refrain from "giving into fear."
"We are talking about needles in haystacks," he told The Guardian. "It's not to say that there aren't dangerous needles in those haystacks, but overwhelmingly we're talking about people who are seeking protection and bear no ill will, and I would say in fact bear gratitude to anyone who's willing to help them."
He added that Breedlove's remarks reflected the refugee crisis "through a military prism".
"It's important that none of us dismiss security concerns," he said, "but pushing people back into the fire can create a domino effect, like closed borders in Hungary, Greece, Turkey, that's potentially every bit as destabilizing as the kinds of fears Gen Breedlove is talking about."