Terror Threat Potent, But Dispersed, Intelligence Chief Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2013 The terror threat is still potent, but it is much more dispersed than it once was, the director of national intelligence told the Senate yesterday.
James R. Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that terror threats are in a transition period as jihadist movements become decentralized.
Al-Qaida as a name brand remains potent, but the core organization -- the original terror group -- is fading in capabilities and influence, he said. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, still maintains clout even though it is under assault in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, he said, and it still wants to launch attacks on American soil and against American interests in the region.
“The group continues to adjust its tactics, techniques and procedures for targeting the West,” Clapper said. “AQAP leaders will have to weigh the priority they give to U.S. plotting against other internal and regional objectives, as well as the extent to which they have individuals who can manage, train, and deploy operatives for U.S. operations.”
Al-Qaida as a brand does inspire individuals to take up arms, Clapper said. These violent extremists are motivated by al-Qaida propaganda, events in the United States or abroad perceived as threatening to Muslims, and the perceived success of other individual attacks.
But the core al-Qaida is hurting, the intelligence director said. Senior personnel losses in 2012 built on previous losses to degrade core al-Qaida to a point that the group probably is unable to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the West, he added.
“However, the group has held essentially the same strategic goals since its initial public declaration of war against the United States in 1996,” Clapper said, “and to the extent that the group endures, its leaders will not abandon the aspiration to attack inside the United States.”
The 2012 attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and the 2013 attack on Algeria’s In-Amenas oil facility demonstrate the threat to American interests from terrorist splinter groups, ad hoc coalitions or individual terrorists, he said.
Al-Qaida is not the only terror group active in the world, Clapper told the senators, nor even the most deadly. Hamas and Hezbollah operate throughout the Middle East. Al-Qaida in Iraq’s Nusrah Front -- operating in Syria -- is one of the best organized and most capable of the Sunni terrorist groups, he said. In Somalia, while al-Shabaab is weakened, it will continue its fights against forces from the Somali and Ethiopian governments and the African Union mission in Somalia.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is the latest group to cause serious trouble, Clapper said, and will target U.S. and Western interests in northern and western Africa.
Nigeria-based Boko Haram will continue to select targets for attacks to destabilize the country and advance its extreme vision of Islamist rule, the director said. And in Pakistan, a mélange of terror groups -- including Lashkar-e-Tayibba -- will continue to cause deadly problems for that government, and for the governments of India and Afghanistan.