TOP US intelligence officials believe al-Qa’ida or associated groups are “certain” to attempt a further terrorist attack on the US in the next three to six months.

Al-Qa’ida ‘poised to strike US again’

  • Brad Norington, Washington correspondent
  • From: The Australian
  • February 04, 2010 12:00AM

TOP US intelligence officials believe al-Qa’ida or associated groups are “certain” to attempt a further terrorist attack on the US in the next three to six months.

The director of US national intelligence, Dennis Blair, gave the dire warning in a Senate hearing yesterday as part of his annual threat assessment.

Questioned by senators, Mr Blair’s view was shared by other officials present, including CIA director Leon Panetta and FBI director Robert Mueller.

Although indicating no specific information about a pending attack, the intelligence chiefs singled out the evolving tactics of al-Qa’ida as the most serious threat to the US.

“My greatest concern, and what keeps me awake at night, is that al-Qa’ida and its terrorist allies and affiliates could very well attack the United States,” Mr Panetta told the Senate intelligence committee.

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The testimony of intelligence chiefs follows heightened anxiety about the prospect of further attacks on US soil after the failed attempt to destroy a domestic airliner on Christmas Day shortly before its arrival in Detroit.

According to Mr Blair and his colleagues, the biggest threat is unlikely to be a large-scale, highly co-ordinated attack similar to the hijacking of aircraft on September 11, 2001.

Instead they believe al-Qa’ida is adapting its methods to make them more difficult to detect.

Mr Panetta said US intelligence agencies believed al-Qa’ida was relying more on recruits with little history of involvement in terrorist organisations and giving them little training and using simpler devices.

Another increasing concern was “homegrown” extremists

acting alone, following the attack on fellow soldiers at the Texas military base in November by accused army major Nidal Malik Hasan.

“It’s the lone-wolf strategy that I think we have to pay attention to as the main threat to this country,” Mr Panetta said.

The elevated terrorist warning came as officials confirmed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of trying to blow up the jet in Detroit, had started co-operating again with investigators. After his arrest, Abdulmutallab provided information for almost an hour to interrogators about how he had been trained by an al-Qa’ida branch based in Yemen. But he stopped talking and asked for a lawyer when he was advised of his “Miranda rights” under US law, which allow the right to remain silent and to call a lawyer.

Yesterday’s Senate hearing degenerated into a bipartisan wrangle at one point as Democrat and Republican senators argued over whether accused terrorists should be read their Miranda rights and face justice in military rather than civilian courts. It emerged yesterday that Abdulmutallab agreed to start talking again to investigators last month after authorities flew two members of his family from Nigeria to the US to speak to him.

Officials are most interested in any contact he had with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical Muslim cleric now in Yemen.

Mr Blair, who has previously said Abdulmutallab should have been questioned first by a special interrogation group that is not yet fully operational, changed his tune in the Senate hearing yesterday. Indicating he supported the FBI’s decision to read the suspect his rights soon after capture, he said: “The balance struck in the case was a very understandable balance. We got very good intelligence.”

He also said criminal courts or military commissions should be decided case by case.

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