US calls Al-Qaeda in Pakistan its ‘most formidable’ threat

Daily News Egypt
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WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday that despite major setbacks, Al-Qaeda’s core in Pakistan is the "most formidable" terrorist group threatening the United States, along with affiliates in Yemen and Africa.

In an annual report, the State Department said it also learned that Americans were not immune to the lure of Islamist militancy, with some of them hooking up last year with radicals in Pakistan and Somalia.

"Al-Qaeda’s core in Pakistan remained during 2009 the most formidable terrorist organization targeting the United States," the State Department’s counter-terrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin told reporters.

"It has proven to be an adaptable and resilient terrorist group whose desire to attack the United States and US interests abroad remains strong," Benjamin said, reading from the Country Reports on Terrorism 2009.

"We assess that Al-Qaeda was actively engaged in operational planning against the United States and continued recruiting, training and deploying operatives, including individuals from Western Europe and North America."

Al-Qaeda, from its safe haven in Pakistan, is helping train and fund the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, which "remained resilient in the south and east and expanded its presence into the north and west," the report said.

In Afghanistan, despite some heavy losses among militants and their leaders, the Taliban’s "ability to recruit foot soldiers from its core base of rural Pashtuns remained undiminished," the report said.

In Pakistan, there was still "rising militancy and extremism," it warned.
Al-Qaeda militants, Afghan insurgents and others, it said, are using "safe havens" in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Baluchistan, the North West Frontier Province, southern Punjab, and other parts of Pakistan.

But Benjamin repeated the US contention that Pakistan is now working hard to tackle the threat from militants, after charges that its ISI intelligence service has backed them as a foil to perceived threats from neighboring India.

The report said Al-Qaeda has reeled under a Pakistani military onslaught, lost many of its leaders, and now finds it "tougher to raise money, train recruits and plan attacks" outside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It also said Al-Qaeda has suffered from a Muslim public backlash as its militants and allies have staged indiscriminate attacks, hitting Muslims in Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere.

"Yet despite these setbacks, the Al-Qaeda threat was more dispersed than in recent years, which partially offset the losses suffered by Al-Qaeda’s core," the report said.

US drone strikes have also reportedly killed Al-Qaeda leaders.

Its attempted Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner en route to Detroit showed "that at least one Al-Qaeda affiliate has developed not just the desire but also the capability to launch a strike against the United States," the report said.

That plot was determined to have been hatched in Yemen with the help of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a Yemeni affiliate.

"Al-Qaeda’s other most active affiliates were in Africa," the report said.

In North Africa’s Sahel, militants from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb abducted foreign nationals, sometimes with the help of area tribesmen and nomads.

In Somalia, Al-Qaeda’s allies in the Shebab "controlled significant tracts of territory" while several leaders of the group "have publicly proclaimed loyalty" to Al-Qaeda.

And there is a need now to worry about American terrorists.
"The assumption that Americans have some special immunity to Al-Qaeda’s ideology was dispelled," Benjamin said.

"While our overall domestic radicalization problem remained significantly less than in many Western nations, several high-profile cases demonstrate that we must remain vigilant," he added.

The report recalled that five Americans from Virginia were arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of ties to militant groups, while Americans have joined the Shebab in Somalia.

Benjamin said US citizens are also becoming "proponents of violent extremism," including the very prominent Yemeni American Anwar Al-Awlaki, a leader of AQAP.

But he also cited native Californian Adam Gadahn, who has become an Al-Qaeda spokesman, and Omar Hammami, an American who grew up in Alabama and has become "an important Al-Shebab voice on the Internet."

In a statistical annex to the report, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) said 10,999 terrorist attacks occurred in 83 countries, resulting in 14,971 deaths.

In the previous year, there were 11,727 attacks worldwide, with 15,727 deaths, according to the NCTC.

The State Department also kept the same countries on the list as it did in 2008 — Iran, Sudan, Cuba and Syria — with Iran again listed as the "most active state sponsor of terrorism."

It cited Iranian support for militants in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

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