Calling Syria and Iraq "a cradle of violent extremism," Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. told Norwegian officials Tuesday that "the world cannot simply sit back and let it become a training ground from which our nationals can return and launch attacks."
"In the face of a threat so grave, we cannot afford to be passive. Rather, we need the benefit of investigative and prosecutorial tools that allow us to be preemptive in our approach to confronting this problem," Holder said.
"If we wait for our nations' citizens to travel to Syria or Iraq, to become radicalized and to return home, it may be too late to adequately protect our national security," he said.
The speech in Oslo to an assemblage of diplomats, academics and national security officials came during what Justice Department officials described as a disturbing surge in the number of U.S. or European citizens signing up to join the fight in Syria.
In June, a suicide bombing in northern Syria was carried out by a 22-year-old American from Florida, Moner Mohammad Abusalha.
U.S. officials estimate there are dozens of Americans and many more Europeans among some 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria. Holder said there is reason to fear them returning to carry out attacks at home.
Holder called for a four-part approach to the problem, urging all countries to emulate the U.S. in adopting laws against conspiracy and enabling better undercover operations. In what has been a sticking point for some countries, he urged each nation to share traveler information through Interpol, the international police organization.
Holder also urged an emphasis on community outreach.
"We must seek to stop individuals from becoming radicalized in the first place by putting in place strong programs to counter violent extremism in its earliest stages," Holder said.