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Obama to defend airstrikes at U.N. as Syrians speak out about ISIS hits

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(CNN) — The U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria earlier this week were just the beginning. There will be more to come, President Barack Obama vowed.

His words were borne out overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, when airstrikes were carried out against five more targets, four in Iraq and one in Syria, a U.S. official told CNN.

In Syria, there was one strike by a U.S. aircraft and another by a coalition plane on an ISIS staging area near the Iraqi border but inside Syria, northwest of Al Qa’im, damaging eight ISIS vehicles.

In Iraq, two airstrikes west of Baghdad destroyed two ISIS armed vehicles and a weapons cache. Two airstrikes southeast of the city of Irbil destroyed an ISIS fighting position.

They come on the heels of major airstrikes in Syria early Tuesday.

Later Wednesday, Obama probably will have to make a case for them.

He will face the United Nations General Assembly to defend his decision to bomb terror groups in Syria without approval from the U.N. Security Council or Congress.

But he will also address the need to tackle the forces that give rise to the radical group ISIS — extremist ideology, sectarian conflicts and the need for more alternatives to terror, a senior administration official said.

In his speech, Obama will also call on more nations to join the coalition fighting terror groups, the official said.

And as the President takes the world stage, law enforcement agencies are looking out for possible lone-wolf attack plots in retaliation to the bombings.

Why not strike the regime?

While some Syrians celebrated the U.S. airstrikes on radical militants, others expressed frustration that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which world leaders blame for thousands of civilian deaths, goes unscathed.

“I am just wondering why the U.S. didn’t bomb the regime’s brigades,” Aleppo resident Foaad Hallak said.

“If the international community is willing to show their good intentions to Syrians, they have to bomb the regime and its militias and also ISIS, and also they have to supply FSA (the rebel Free Syrian Army) with anti-aircraft missiles.”

Muhammad al-Dleby said he was frustrated that after three years and more than 100,000 deaths in Syria, the international community only stepped in because radical militants were “a threat to its interests.”

“Assad is the biggest terrorist in Syria, and he did crimes that even … extremists didn’t do,” he said.

Tuesday’s airstrikes

The airstrikes early Tuesday came in three waves, with coalition partners participating in the latter two, Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr. said Tuesday.

The first wave mostly targeted the Khorasan Group, whom Obama described as “seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria.”

U.S. officials said the group was plotting attacks against the United States and other Western targets. The plots against the United States were discovered by the intelligence community in the past week, an intelligence source told CNN.

The source did not say what the Khorasan Group’s target may have been, but said the plot may have involved a bomb made of a nonmetallic device like a toothpaste container or clothes dipped in explosive material.

The second wave of airstrikes Tuesday involved planes striking ISIS targets in northern Syria.

The third wave involved planes targeting ISIS training camps and combat vehicles in eastern Syria, Mayville said.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan took part in airstrikes on the ISIS targets, the U.S. military said, while Qatar played a supporting role.

In all, 200 pieces of ordnance were dropped by coalition members, a U.S. official told CNN.

The toll

It’s too early to say what effect the U.S. strikes had against the Khorasan Group, Mayville said.

The attacks on ISIS, however, destroyed targets including training compounds, command-and-control facilities, a finance center and supply trucks, the U.S. Central Command said.

The airstrikes apparently took a toll on another terror group, killing the leader of the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, according to a statement from the group.

Al-Nusra Front identified the leader as Abu Yousef al-Turki, also known as “The Turk.” It posted a statement on Twitter, accompanied by a so-called proof-of-death — a photograph — of al-Turki.

But the United States has not identified al-Nusra as a group targeted in the strikes.

Possible retaliation

Now, concern over possible backlash by the terror groups has prompted the Department of Homeland Security to warn law enforcement agencies of potential lone-wolf terror attacks in the United States, a U.S. law enforcement official with knowledge of the warning told CNN.

The bulletin calls for vigilance as well as scrutinizing social media for anyone encouraging violence in response to the strikes. It points to the use of social media as a tactic by ISIS to spread its message and call for violence.

It also advises agencies to look for changes in appearance or behavior in those they’re tracking, the official said.

Fears on the ground

Al-Halabi, one of the activists from Aleppo, said residents have two fears about upcoming strikes in Syria.

“The first is that they are afraid of having civilian casualties because ISIS’ members and fighters are among civilians,” al-Halabi said.

“And the second concern is that what will happen after that? Who will replace ISIS, especially that the regime is ready to take control of ISIS’ areas?”