Threat Highest Since Sept. 11 Attacks, Official Says

Radicalized U.S. residents willing to carry out attacks with “little or no warning” have helped create one of the biggest terrorist threats in years, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today.

“The terrorist threat to the homeland is in many ways at its most heightened state since 9/11,” she told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee in Washington.

Al-Qaeda affiliates and allies increasingly are trying to recruit Westerners or those with ties to the U.S. and Europe, Napolitano said. The recruits include Pakistani immigrant Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a bomb in New York’s Times Square in May, she said.

U.S. intelligence officials are monitoring the actions of allies such as the Haqqani network, Harakat-ul Jihad Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Shabaab, which have signaled more of a willingness recently to conduct attacks outside of their regions, said Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

“The past two years have highlighted the growing breadth of terrorism faced by the United States and our allies,” Leiter said.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, a New York Republican, called the hearings to explore the threat of Islamic radicalization.

‘Explicitly and Directly’

“We must confront this threat explicitly and directly,” he said. King said he will hold a hearing next month on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims.

Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the panel’s ranking Democrat, has said the focus should be expanded to include extreme environmentalists and neo-Nazis.

In her testimony, Napolitano cited a December intelligence report that said that 50 of 88 people involved in 32 terrorism plots related to al-Qaeda since Sept. 11 were U.S. citizens.

Al-Qaeda in the past few years has been focusing more of its media efforts on recruiting “like-minded, U.S.-based individuals,” Leiter said.

Since September, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has released three issues of Inspire, its English-language online magazine. A special edition in November “glorified” the group’s involvement in the October plot to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes, Leiter said.

Intelligence officials have said al-Qaeda branches have become more prominent in planning U.S. attacks because the group’s leadership in Pakistan has been hurt by U.S.-led attacks.

“Al-Qaeda we believe in Pakistan is at one of its weakest points in the past decade,” Leiter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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