The militant group al Qaeda remains a threat to the United States even though its leaders have been cornered in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday.
With the arrest last month of an Afghan-born man in Colorado who stands accused of plotting to explode bombs in the United States, the Obama administration has been working feverishly to ensure the attack has indeed been thwarted and uncover any potential links to al Qaeda.
“I think it is fair to say now that there are those in the country who have al Qaeda or al Qaeda-esque beliefs,” Napolitano said in an interview during the Reuters Washington Summit.
“So we need to be doing everything we can as well as working with state and locals to make sure any of their plots are interrupted before they come to fruition,” she said.
Napolitano declined to comment on the possibility of further arrests in the Colorado case involving Najibullah Zazi.
One of the key criticisms that emerged after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington was that various US intelligence authorities were not communicating with each other sufficiently and sharing information.
Since then, officials have tried to fix the system to avert such communications breakdowns, however Napolitano noted that the threat of another attack was still out there.
“I think it’s fair to say that it is a threat environment that is very active right now, that things have been popping up,” she said. “We can work as much as we can to minimize risk, but it would not be right to say we can eliminate all sources of risk.”
In addition to the Zazi case, authorities last month also arrested two men in separate sting operations for plots to blow up office buildings, one of which involved a Jordanian man who thought he was reaching out to an al Qaeda cell but was duped by an undercover FBI operation.
“We have to know and assume that even though al Qaeda leadership may be boxed in geographically and financially damaged by some of the actions that have gone on in the Pakistan-Afghanistan area nonetheless, there are still those even in the United States who ascribe to those beliefs and who are very capable of changing their methodology but not their goal,” Napolitano said.
In other comments, Napolitano said:
* Guantanamo terrorism prisoners can be safely brought to the United States and tried without posing security risks;
* Told Reuters TV that she expects legislation to overhaul immigration laws to be introduced within the first quarter of 2010, noting immigration poses economic, social and security issues for the United States.
* Plans to make her recommendations to reform colour-coded security threat level system by end of next week after much criticism that it is not particularly effective.