Top Obama administration officials yesterday said recent arrests in alleged bombing plots highlight the challenges they face combating “self-radicalized, homegrown extremists” as well as foreigners in the United States determined to carry out attacks.
Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-born man living legally in Colorado, was charged last week with planning a bombing attack in the United States, and a Jordanian man who overstayed a visa permit was accused of trying to bomb a Dallas skyscraper.
Those and other recent arrests have prompted alerts to law enforcement agencies to step up vigilance on transit systems, in luxury hotels and at sports stadiums.
However, authorities have repeatedly said they do not believe an attack is imminent and have declined to raise the threat assessment from the current “elevated” level.
The officials told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that al Qaeda still poses a threat although a reduced one and that they must also focus on affiliated groups and homegrown militants.
“These episodes have shown that the threat of terrorism can come from people in many different areas of the country with a broad range of backgrounds,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the panel.
While the case involving the Jordanian man and another bombing plot involving an American who is accused of trying to blow up an Illinois courthouse were sting operations, officials stressed that they are sometimes hard to uncover.
“These cases illustrate not only the threats, but the challenges presented by the self-radicalized, homegrown extremists,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller.
He also said that he was concerned that al Qaeda, which was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, has been trying to draw in people from Europe and other Westerners who could more easily slip into the United States.
“For the last several years, we have picked up intelligence that al Qaeda has made a concerted effort to recruit Europeans and Westerners understanding that they can fly under the radar in terms of passing through border controls,” Mueller said.
Mueller and the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, also expressed concern that militant groups are recruiting individuals like Somali immigrants in the United States to receive weapons training in overseas camps.
“Over the past several years, travel of Westerners, particularly US citizens, to either Pakistan or Somalia has been our single biggest concern,” Leiter said.
Pic: Twin Tower, September 11 2001 attacks in the USA