While Twitter and other social media sites were abuzz with rumors that ISIS terrorists would attempt to use the United States’ southern border with Mexico to sneak into the country, Department of Homeland Security officials said that there is no credible evidence that members of the Islamic militant group plan to use the border to enter the U.S.
Speaking to Congress on Wednesday, the officials said that the administration of President Barack Obama is more concerned with jihadist fighters entering the U.S. legally on commercial airline flights.
The Homeland Security testimony cast in doubt the border scenarios cited by lawmakers such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
"We don't have any credible information, that we are aware of, of known or suspected terrorists coming across the border," said Jennifer Lasley, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security's intelligence and analysis office, according to the New York Daily News.
Another DHS official speaking to Sen. John McCain during a Senate committee hearing acknowledged that the department had tracked some chatter over social media of ISIS adherents across the globe talking about the possibility of sneaking across the U.S.’s southern, but that the DHS is prepared for this threat.
"Any infiltration across our border would be a threat," said Francis Taylor, DHS undersecretary for intelligence, but added that he is "satisfied we have the intelligence and capability on the border that would prevent that activity.”
While Cruz, McCain and other lawmakers in border states have argued for beefing up security along the border in the wake of the ISIS threat, the Obama administration has focused more on suspected terrorists who hold western passports.
"The number of known watch-listed persons we are encountering on the Southwest border is minimal compared to commercial aviation," said John Wagner, assistant commissioner in the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's Office of Field Operations. "We're talking tens versus thousands."
The testimonies before Congress came only hours before Obama outlined his strategy on dealing with the ISIS threat. In a nationally televised speech Wednesday night, the president said he wants to step up military and diplomatic efforts to counter the extremists in Iraq and Syria by arming Syrian opposition forces and extending U.S. airstrikes into Syria.
"We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are," Obama declared. "That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq."
The president also said he would send another 475 U.S. troops into Iraq to advise that country's forces, but insists they are not combat troops. The U.S. already has launched about 150 airstrikes on Islamic State targets inside Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government and has also sent military advisers, supplies and humanitarian aid to help Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces beat back the insurgents.
The Obama administration doesn't think the militants pose any immediate threat of an attack in the U.S. But it believes the group is a threat to the Middle East and could attack U.S. targets overseas. The U.S. also worries about the group training and radicalizing Americans who could later return to attack America.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.