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New US restrictions for European, other travelers

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department said Monday it is adding screening requirements for Europeans and other travelers from countries for which a visa is not required for US entry.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said travelers from 38 Visa Waiver Program countries, including most of Europe, will have to provide more passport data, contact information, and aliases before they can travel to the United States.

The move comes amid growing concern of threats from Western fighters returning from Syria.

Monday’s decision to add scrutiny for foreign travelers is the second time in a week that Johnson has disclosed security changes.

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Last Tuesday he announced extra security at various federal government buildings in Washington and other major American cities after a fatal shooting in Canada’s capital city.

Greece’s top security official said Monday his government has accepted a request from the United States to step up screening at the country’s ports and airports for suspected volunteers traveling from Europe to fight with Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Public Order Minister Vassilis Kikilias met in Washington last week with US Attorney General Eric Holder, CIA Director John Brennan, and FBI Director James Comey.

After his return, Kikilias on Monday briefed conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on the visit and said Greece would boost cooperation with the United States in countering the Islamic State group.

Greece is a major transit point for immigrants and refugees seeking illegal entry to European Union nations.

In New York on Monday, Comey said the task of identifying every American who travels to Syria in response to recruitment efforts by the Islamic State group remains ‘‘extremely difficult.’’

Speaking at a counterterrorism conference at Fordham Law School, Comey told the audience of law enforcement and private security officials that the FBI has identified some potential suspects who have gone overseas and come back. But he said he worries others will go undetected.

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‘‘There are literally thousands of ways to get from the United States to Syria, and the same number of ways to return,’’ Comey said. ‘‘And we have tens of thousands of Americans traveling for all manner of good and legitimate reasons out of this country and in the direction of Syria every single day.

“Finding among that group, those who are responding to the call of a group like [the Islamic State] is extremely difficult,’’ he said.

The director also cited a persistent threat from sophisticated online propaganda and extremist rhetoric by Islamic State and other terror groups that aim to incite would-be terrorists to kill in their name inside the United States without exposure to radical views at local mosques.

‘‘I actually don’t see religious institutions as a central feature of recruitment in the United States,’’ he said. ‘‘I see it increasingly as an online phenomenon without center, which makes it very difficult for us.’’

Comey repeated his concerns that plans by Apple and Google to encrypt their latest smartphones could hinder investigations into domestic terrorism.

Absent the ability to access information on the devices, ‘‘We’re going to miss out on people who are using social media to plan and plot terrorist acts,’’ he said. ‘‘This worries me as a citizen and as a law enforcement officer.

“I am a big believer in the rule of law, but I believe that means that there should be no one in the United States who is above the law,’’ Comey said. “I also think it means there should be no places in the United States that should be beyond the law.’’

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The Islamic State has used sophisticated technology to spread its jihadist message, calling on potential volunteers to abandon the decadence of Western society and join the fight in Syria.

The group has been smuggling potential fighters into Syria from Turkey, where they are trained for combat and educated on the group’s radical form of Islam.